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Think of the children! Why gun safety classes should be taught in every school.

A gun safety demonstration in an Indiana classroom ca.1950

The subject of children and guns is a hotly debated one these days, and I'm not going to dive into the reasons why in this particular post. (If I ever feel like signing myself up for a barrage of angry letters, maybe I'll tackle it one day.) But I do want to talk about the subject of gun-proofing your kids. It's not a new subject, with authors such as Massad Ayoob and Kathy Jackson having already written exhaustively about how to store your firearms securely and how to teach your children gun safety.

I bring it up now because of a headline that appeared in my news feed today: Iowa is about to start offering gun safety classes to middle schoolers. Well, they're actually hunter's safety and wilderness survival classes, which makes sense considering how many people in Iowa are avid hunters. But I guess "State with lots of hunters will offer hunter's safety classes to the children of hunters" wasn't as grabby of a headline. From the article:

The school district has debated the program for years, but after the recent death of a Clarksville High School student as a result of an accidental shooting while he was fishing with friends pushed the need further...

...DNR staff will spend a week going through gun safety with unloaded guns, basic survival and first aid skills, water safety, wildlife identification, and more. Once 10 hours worth of in-class training and homework is complete, students will receive a certificate of completion from the local DNR.

Okay, so this is really cool. The DNR program appears to cover all the stuff they used to teach in Boy Scouts, and will give kids the skills and knowledge they need to stay safe around not only firearms, but wildlife, nature, and the water. Who could possibly object to such a common-sense approach to safety? Who could possibly make this a political issue? Why, the sleazy con artists at the Brady Campaign, of course!

"Middle schoolers haven't developed the cognitive capacity of an adult to rationally understand the risk of firearms, and they likely can't tell the difference between having a loaded and unloaded gun," said Kyleanne Hunter, vice president for programs at the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. "We know from Government Accountability Office reports that child safety programs don't work. As adults, we have a responsibility for safe stewardship of weapons. Expecting children to practice safe storage on our behalf just isn't responsible.

Let me get this straight: 14-year-olds can babysit younger children without adult supervision, hurl themselves into the air on skateboards and somehow land perfectly without breaking their neck, program computers, play contact sports like football and strategy games like chess, handle heavy machinery in wood shop without losing fingers, start a campfire with sticks, work on cars, knit and sew clothing, cook meals over a hot stove without burning the house down, design original science experiments, and even work part-time after school in their parents' business or store...but they can't safely operate a simple machine like a single-shot .22LR rifle?

Someone isn't being honest here.

My children have been shooting their .22s (under extremely vigilant adult supervision) since late preschool with no issues, and now that they're in elementary school, they have a solid grasp of safe gun handling and secure storage. But according to Kyleanne Hunter, an eighth grader is simply not capable of doing what my kids had mastered by their sixth birthday. Not only that, but Ms. Hunter seems to believe that teaching kids how to store guns properly is somehow an abdication of our own responsibility to be safe with guns. It makes no sense, but then few arguments against gun safety education do.

Refusing to teach your children gun safety because you yourself dislike firearms and plan to never own one is like refusing to teach them to swim because you hate the water and will never own a pool. The world is full of water and they should be able to survive falling into it. The world, or at least our country, is full of firearms and they should know what to do if they find one, whether it's at a friend's house or in a book bag in a city park. Would your child know how to react if they found a loaded pistol on a park bench? Or if a friend walked out of his dad's room with a rifle in his hand? If not, why not? Knowing how to behave around guns is as much a survival skill as knowing how to swim.

In the absence of an organized school program, there are many resources for parents who want to teach their children gun safety from a recognized curriculum. NRA's Eddie Eagle program is a great place to start with children from pre-K through 4th grade. With engaging videos, coloring books, games, and highly informative literature for parents, Eddie Eagle is steadfastly not a gun advocacy program. In fact, it is apolitical and prohibited from being taught at any facility that sells firearms. The program uses a simple mantra of four rules for what a child should do if they see a gun:

1.) Stop!

2.) Don't touch!

3.) Run away!

4.) Tell a grown-up!

Good advice for a young child, right? Regardless of your personal views about the National Rifle Association, I would hope we can agree that teaching kids not to touch guns and to find an adult immediately if they encounter one is a good idea. And yet Eddie Eagle has met resistance in many places around the US for cynically political reasons. The sad irony is that the children of responsible gun owners are the least likely to need a program like Eddie Eagle, probably having learned gun safety from a young age, while the children from staunchly anti-2nd Amendment homes are the most likely to mishandle firearms out of pure ignorance, often with tragic results.

Older children should be taught The Four Rules of firearms safety, and encouraged to practice them with inert replicas of guns until you are satisfied they can carry one around with the muzzle always pointed in a safe direction and their finger always off the trigger. Knowing how to safely unload both a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver is also a very useful skill and can be taught to tweens and teens in just a few minutes.

Despite our angrily divided political climate in 2019, teaching kids gun safety is not a political issue no matter how the craven opportunists may try to make it one. There might not be guns in your household, but there are guns in countless millions of other households around the country. We owe it to our children to arm them with the knowledge, skills, and attitude they need to be safe around firearms. Anything less is irresponsible, and it appears that the Iowa school systems agree.

"We have conditions in this country that have made this a political debate and it’s really not a political debate for us we feel like we’re doing right for our community," Foster said.

Exactly. Whether or not you're a gun owner, there's simply no excuse to neglect gun-proofing your children. It doesn't have to be done with actual firearms; inert replicas of handguns and even long guns are available online, like this blaze orange rubber training gun from Amazon (affiliate link). No one would ever mistake it for a real firearm and it can be safely handled without risk to anyone. Teaching kids how to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and their finger off the trigger, if they must handle the gun at all, could quite literally save a life one day. This pellet gun (Amazon affiliate link) is made entirely of plastic and has a bright orange tip so again, it's clearly a toy. But what's neat about it is the working slide and a magazine that can be released and removed from the gun. Teaching an older child how to "drop the mag, rack the slide, lock it open" in that order is totally possible with this amazing little BB gun, and I use it often in my classes with adult students simply because it's a completely safe way to show them how to properly clear a semiautomatic pistol.

Of course, you must know how to do these things yourself before trying to impart the knowledge upon your children. And that's where formal firearms training comes in. If you don't know how to safely handle a gun, why not? What would you do if you found one on a playground? What would you do if your five-year-old came running out of an uncle's bedroom with a pistol in his little hands? If you can't answer these questions confidently, it's time to sign up for a gun safety class. You can take a class that includes live fire (shooting) or one that's entirely in the classroom (I offer both). Some people have no desire to ever fire a gun--but they still want to know how to safely handle and manipulate one. And you should too.

I applaud the Iowa superintendent and parents who were wise enough to bring gun safety training into the schools and pray that every district will follow their lead. Because again, this is not a political issue despite the dishonest press releases, cherry-picked studies, and sensational headlines we see in any mainstream media article about gun violence. Teaching kids how to be safe around guns is a matter of life and death, and our sacred duty as loving parents.

Keep learning, keep teaching, and stay safe out there!