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Owning a gun is your basic human right. Learning to use and store it safely is your civic and moral

A gun safety class taught in an Indiana elementary school in 1950

As I explained in another post last month, buying a gun doesn't make you a safe and responsible shooter any more than buying a motorcycle makes you a safe and responsible biker. Guns are just machines; they're neither good nor evil, not harmless or dangerous until they're placed into the hands of a human being. NRA firearms courses emphasize that the two most common causes of gun tragedies are ignorance and carelessness. Taking care and practicing safe handling with your gun is only one half of this important equation; you must also take the time to learn how to use it properly.

Jared Keller recently published a succinct little exposition on this topic and I wanted to share it with y'all because it's so very important to recognize and understand, both as responsible gun owners and promoters and protectors of the Second Amendment.

The United States is awash in guns—and a significant portion of those gun owners have no idea how to use their weapons.

That's the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health and published in the journal Injury Prevention. The research, culled from a national survey of nearly 4,000 American adults, reveals that some 61 percent of firearm owners "had received formal firearm training." While that's an increase from the 56 to 58 percent of Americans who reported firearm training in a similar nationally representative survey conducted in 1994, the number of Americans who demonstrably know their way around a gun, in the study authors' words, "has not meaningfully changed since two decades ago."

Yikes! So the majority of American gun owners have received some formal training, but there is still a large percentage walking around with guns they have never been taught how to use. And knowing how to shoot isn't the only thing many of us are completely ignorant about.

But responsible gun ownership isn't just a question of knowing when to pull the trigger—it's also about knowing when not to, and how to maintain the gun even when it's not being used; that includes the safe storage and handling reported in Injury Prevention as common training topics.

In editorials about gun safety, this is typically where the author will begin to conclude that the American gun owner's striking lack of safety and handling education around firearms is just cause to deprive all Americans of private gun ownership. But Keller isn't typical here, and I applaud him for it.

So what's the solution? North Carolina lawmakers had an interesting idea in April: Let high school students take gun classes to learn about the responsibility that comes with handling a firearm. After all, the country is awash in guns; rather than pretend they don't exist, the lawmakers reasoned, perhaps it's worth training the next generation to at least know how to use them safely.

I think we can all agree that in a perfect world, parents, grandparents, a concerned family friend, or someone else close to the child would begin teaching kids gun safety from a young age, ensuring that by the time they were old enough to begin shooting, they would already have a solid understanding of Jeff Cooper's famous 4 Rules:

  1. All guns are always loaded and must be treated as so.

  2. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.

  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you intend to shoot.

  4. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Alas, the world is an imperfect place. Through negligence of their own parental duties, an irrational fear of firearms, a refusal to accept firearms ownership as a fundamental component of the American experience, or some other factor, many people raise their kids to be pig-ignorant of these rules. In my opinion, refusing to teach your children basic gun safety because you personally don't like or own guns is as irresponsible as refusing to teach them to swim because you personally don't like the water and don't have a swimming pool at home. Guns, like water, are a part of our environment whether we like it or not. Our schools can and should fill in the gaps when it comes to gun safety training.

My own children were able to recite the Eddie Eagle rules almost as soon as they could talk. Can yours? If not, why not? If they see a gun, in your house or elsewhere, do they know to:

  1. Stop!

  2. Don't touch!

  3. Run away!

  4. Tell a grownup!

Eddie Eagle coloring book from the NRA's Eddie Eagle gun safety education program for children

Formal training for yourself is just one part of owning guns safely and responsibly. NRA offers a wide range of courses for people wanting to learn everything from basic gun safety to defensive shooting inside and outside the home. But that safety knowledge applies to everyone living with a gun, including (and perhaps especially) children. And kids who are raised to appreciate guns and handle them safely are far less likely to vote to take them away from law-abiding citizens in the future.

Remove the mystique and fear and negative psychological associations many people have around firearms, and you are left with a responsible adult who understands what a gun really is: a machine that throws a projectile really hard and really fast, and is not in itself evil or good--but, like a car or a chainsaw, is potentially deadly in the hands of someone who doesn't know how to use it.