Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gun Safety

I took the boys to the gun range today.  We had a good time, but it's exhausting trying to stay alert to any safety issues.  They're still working on keeping their finger off the trigger until they're ready to fire.  Shoot, I catch myself doing that now and then, but they listened more intently when I told them how important it was to say something if I failed to follow that rule.  The problem with going to the gun range is that I can't just sit back and relax.  I can't let them do their thing and be independent.  I like it better when Mike goes with us so that he can take the lead.  Then, I get to relax and practice my shooting. 

We printed out the requirements for the rifle shooting merit badge and went through a bunch of the details.  When I got home, Mike said that it all had to be done under the supervision of a certified instructor.  Well, no wonder I was so tired.  There were a lot of safety issues that we covered today.  I like that.  They'll be that much further ahead when they work with an instructor.  I wish that had been part of the information on the page I printed out. 

In any case, they learned quite a bit.  They now know that if a friend brings out a gun to show them, they need to leave the area and notify an adult.  They understand the safe operation of the two guns we shot today.  They understand why a BB gun or pellet air gun should be treated with the same respect as an ordinary firearm.  I got to explain to them that a boy on my street shot me in the leg with a BB gun and I had to pick it out of my leg by myself and use my T-shirt to stop the bleeding.  We talked about hearing and eye protection.  They heard me say, "Always keep your gun aimed downrange, don't point your gun at anything you don't intend to kill, and always treat a gun as if it's loaded."  Shoot, I'm not positive those are the three fundamental rules for safe gun handling, but I'm sure it's pretty close.  This is why they need that certified instructor.  Mom is just not educated enough, though I try.  The good thing is that in this case, they knew they had to listen to Mom's directions because infractions would not be tolerated.

So, it turns out that I was wrong.  The NRA says that the three fundamntal rules for safe gun handling are
  • always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  • always keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot, and
  • always keep the gun unloaded until you're ready to use it. 
So, I managed to tell them to keep the gun aimed downrange.  That's similar to the first rule since none of us are shooting anywhere except at the gun range.  I missed the other two, though I did lecture them about their fingers being on the trigger before they were ready to fire.  I'm glad about that.  I hope they saw that both guns were not loaded when we got them out at the range, but that's not as good as explicit instruction. 

Both boys did a good job of handling the guns.  I was proud of them.  I expected no less, but there aren't many eleven year old boys I'd go to a gun range with.  Nick did take one slightly wild shot today, but it was downrange and he was still holding the gun at the end.  He got nervous with my revolver and shot it before he was really ready. 

It's controversial, no?

It is. 

Here is my dilemma.  A curious boy, or worse, two curious boys and a gun are dangerous.  A boy who's been entrusted with responsibility and some privileges and a gun are less dangerous.  A boy who knows how to use a safety is less dangerous.  You notice that I haven't said they are not dangerous.  Yet, knowing my own sense of curiosity at that age, I'd much rather educate them regarding safety, train them to shoot at a gun range with an intimidating NRA advisor in charge, and let them blow up some paper targets instead of hoping they'll never figure out where the keys to the trigger locks are.  Even if we didn't have any guns in the house, there's a good chance the boys would encounter a gun at some point before their twenty-fifth birthdays.  If they have decent training, they might survive it.

I lived on the same street as a boy who accidentally shot and killed his brother when they were playing with their father's gun.  I have a distant relative who shot off his own toe as a boy cleaning a rifle without an adult present.  I worked with a guy who shot himself through the calf trying to do a quick draw when he was out camping with his buddies.  I lost a great-uncle before I was born when he leaned his shotgun on a fence, climbed it, and was shot when it fell and accidentally discharged.  You might think that I'd be afraid of guns after all that.

I am afraid of guns.  I'm also afraid of ignorance combined with curiosity.  If the boy who accidentally shot his brother had kept the gun aimed in a safe direction, they would both be alive today.  Yes, I said both.  The older brother eventually committed suicide.  If my distant relative had been shown how a load can be in the chamber even when the clip is removed, he'd still have that toe.  If my coworker had kept his finger off the trigger until he was ready to fire, he wouldn't have had to get a slug removed from his calf.  I don't know about my great-uncle.  It doesn't take much smarts not to lean a gun against something you're going to jostle by climbing up onto it.  That would probably fall into the category of aiming it in a safe direction.  There they are, five lives that would have been better preserved had they known those three simple rules.

After the boy shot his brother, my dad called my brother, sister, and I together for a lecture.  At first, I thought we were in trouble.  I was only six.  On that day, my dad showed me how to use the safety on his rifle.  "Red is dead," he told me.  He showed me how to use it and proceeded to tell us that if he ever caught us even looking at his gun, he'd kill us.  Oh, he didn't say that exactly, but that's what I generally remember.  Ironic, isn't it. 

I've always believed in education when it came to dangerous situations.  At first, it was only because that's what my dad believed, but after watching the pride and care Nick and Adrian took today in shooting the guns and in cleaning them, I believe I'm right.  Being offered instruction and some limited privileges does make a boy less dangerous. 

I only hope I'm right.

Thank you for listening, jb


  1. You are right, its always better to be educated about the dangerous things.Some people would like the kids to be ignorant lest they are attracted to them...but I believe its good to discuss with them (guns), drugs, smoking and drinking.It will help them understand why they need to stay away.I do not lose an opportunity to talk about these things with my son,letting him know that there would be a time when he will feel pressurized to try them...he must know why he should refuse.

    1. It's so hard to talk about all of that, isn't it?