A common question I receive from students is “At what age should you teach your children about guns?”
For me, the question is flawed because it infers there is some point of time, some arbitrary age at which we transition from not teaching the kids about guns to suddenly teaching them about guns.
Being a gun owner is a lifestyle regardless of the reason you own firearms. You could be passionate about hunting, self-defense, collecting, competitive shooting, or a number of other gun-related activities. Whatever it is; if you own firearms that has to be a part of your lifestyle.
I live in Colorado. A lot of families near me are passionate about skiing or hiking yet I never see anyone suppose that only the adults and older teenagers should go skiing while the younger kids have to stay home and miss out. If your family is passionate about skiing, that is part of your lifestyle.
It is something the entire family engages in at the youngest age physically possible on a regular basis as time and budget allow.
Teaching children about guns needs to be the same way.
It Needs to Be A Fun Family Activity
First, safely handling guns often is a family activity, not just a Dad and/or Mom thing.
My children do not get to the range as often as I do, but they do get to the range with some regularity. Shooting guns is a family activity. Some children are going to enjoy it more than others but the key is to make it a fun activity and not a chore.
This can be done by pairing the trip to the range with a meal at a restaurant or a treat afterward. Some children might respond well to competition. Purchasing a firearm for each child so they have a sense of ownership can also increase the excitement and enjoyment.
Teaching The Skill of Safety
As a child grows and develops their ability to learn, retain information, and act on that information with a degree of maturity will increase. As such, we need to look at the process as a journey and not a checkbox.
In addition to physical and brain development, there is also just the issue of gun safety being an unnatural skill. Neither adults nor children naturally handle guns in a safe manner. It takes time, repetition, and practice to rewire oneself to follow safe gun handling practices.
For these reasons, the best thing I can do with my children is to provide them with the highest degree of repetition and practice that I can.
The more often they have the opportunity to handle a firearm correctly the more we build new synapses into the brain; overwriting the existing natural ways of thinking and moving that are otherwise contrary to gun safety.
Early on, the child is going to need very close supervision, as they grow and develop gun safety skills or habits they will require less supervision.
Working With Physical Limitations
Smaller humans are less capable of dealing with heavy firearms and/or firearms with significant recoil. If I want firearms to be a part of my family culture and lifestyle I need firearms that my smaller humans can comfortably shoot and manage.
So starting out with airsoft, air guns, and .22 (the .22 in the above picture belongs to that kid) is a really good idea. As the child grows so will their ability to manage heavier and more powerful firearms. As a bonus you get to save a lot of money since this ammunition is so inexpensive!
Also, be sure to own and provide child-size safety gear such as ear muffs and safety glasses. Getting to the range for the first time with your youngster and discovering you lack some of the core essentials is a pretty serious letdown for all.
I encourage you to break away from the idea that at some arbitrary age you are going to sit down a child and bring them into the firearm conversation. This will increase curiosity and mystery, which has the opposite effect of what you want to achieve.
Instead, think of firearms as a natural and obvious part of the life experience and your family's culture. An appropriate amount of knowledge, education, and experience is always preferable to ignorance and curiosity.