How to Be Safe With Guns and Kids in Your Home

How to Be Safe With Guns and Kids in Your Home

The conversation about secure gun storage too often begins and ends with a gun safe. That’s a fine place to start, but here’s an inconvenient truth: kids are clever. Sometimes, too clever for their own good.

Do you think you’re the only one who knows about that shotgun on the top shelf of your closet? You aren’t. Your kids probably know where all your firearms are stored and, depending on their age, may even know where you keep the keys to the safe or the safe combination itself. And even if they don’t know that information now, they may well find out one day down the road.

That’s why, as Derek LeBlanc of the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation points out, true gun safety should be educational and collaborative. It isn’t enough to keep guns away from kids–they should know how to keep themselves and others safe even when secure gun storage systems break down.

“We need to make sure we secure our guns but also educate our kids on how guns are not toys, they’re tools,” he told MeatEater. “We take them to the range so they understand the cause and effect of what happens when they press that trigger. We’re trying to normalize that conversation.”

Step 1: Secure

If you don’t already have a gun safe big enough for all your firearms, you should get one. Big gun safes are incredibly expensive, but anything is better than nothing. A sheet metal gun cabinet won’t survive a fire or dissuade a burglar with a crowbar, but it will keep guns out of little, curious hands.

Combination safes are more secure than keyed safes, especially if the combination lives in your head rather than on a piece of paper. And even though digital keypad safes are more convenient, I actually prefer the old-school rotating dial. Getting into my safe requires both knowing the combination and knowing the rotational pattern for each number. That’s an extra layer of security I don’t think my kids will be able to figure out until they’re old enough to buy a gun on their own.

Of course, the reason many people have a firearm is for home defense. That’s why LeBlanc disagrees with those who say it’s necessary to keep firearms and ammunition locked in separate safes.

“I can’t get the buy-in from gun owners about securing their firearm properly if we say we need to keep the ammo separate from the gun,” he said. LeBlanc himself keeps a loaded handgun for personal protection locked in a small safe in his home. “As long as the top is closed, everything is set, and it’s armed. I have no problem with the gun being in that condition,” he said.

LeBlanc recommends Vaultek gun safes for this purpose, and I’ve had good luck with this Verifi Smart Safe. The biometric unlocking mechanism has never failed to open, and the battery lasts for years.

These small, quick-access safes aren’t cheap, but I only use them to store the firearms I might need for personal protection. I keep the majority of my firearms unloaded in a large, fireproof rifle safe with a combination lock, and most of my ammunition is stored separately. Your system might look a little different, but the goal is the same: reduce the chance of unauthorized access, especially by the little ones in your home.

Step 2: Educate

As any security expert will tell you, even the best systems can fail. Your gun storage system might work for years, but it only takes one mistake to lead to tragedy. That’s why it’s crucial to educate the young people in your home about the consequences of improper firearm use and what to do if they stumble upon an unsecured firearm.

The first lesson in that education, LeBlanc says, is to avoid making firearms taboo.

“A good analogy is the hot burner. You tell your child not to touch that hot burner, the first thing they’re going to do is touch that burner,” he said. Instead, LeBlanc encourages parents and guardians to normalize conversations about firearms by teaching the basic rules of gun safety and giving them a roadmap for how to act around unsecured firearms.

The Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation gives children a four-step process if they stumble upon a gun outside of adult supervision: stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grown up. These instructions might evolve as a child gets older, but the basic education is still the same. Guns can be used safely, but they should never be treated as toys.

LeBlanc cautions against scaring children, though it’s often necessary to be serious and stern. He also encourages parents and guardians to have multiple conversations that build on previous knowledge rather than a single conversation that might go over a child’s head.

“Look at the big picture and break everything down into bite-sized portions. And then repeat that. It’s going to be easier for you to replicate it, easier for them to process the information, and ultimately, that’s what’s going to keep them safe,” he said.

Step 3: Demystify

When a kid is too young to understand what a gun is or what it does, secure storage is the only option. As a kid gets older, they can be taught never to play with a firearm. And as they get even older, they should be taken to the range.

Hunters do this anyway because they want their kids to join them in the field. But range time can have another positive side effect–it demystifies firearms and makes kids less likely to use them on their own.

If a kid doesn’t know how to operate a firearm, teaching them to do so at a range does mean they’ll also be able to load the firearm at home. But LeBlanc notes that kids already have access to information about guns, usually from video games. He says he often meets five- and six-year-olds who know everything there is to know about AR-15s. For those kids especially, shooting a real gun at a range under close adult supervision can relieve the curiosity they might feel about firearms and reinforce the serious consequences of real-life projectiles.

LeBlanc’s Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation offers both in-class instruction for parents and kids as well as range time to make sure everyone knows how to operate firearms safely. To make sure kids have a positive, safe, and fun experience, LeBlanc recommends:

  • Reiterate the four rules of gun safety until a kid knows them by heart. If you need a refresher: Treat every gun like it’s loaded, don’t point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and know your target and what’s beyond.
  • Make sure the firearm is the right size for a kid. Crickett youth rifles are a popular choice, but kids outgrow those quickly. LeBlanc likes Ruger’s American Rimfire rifles, but any bolt-action with a detachable box magazine is a great place to start.
  • Start on smaller calibers and work your way up. Nothing will discourage a kid faster than shooting a magnum cartridge. Start with .22 LR.
  • Start with a rifle from a bench. Shooting handguns is more difficult and usually involves more recoil and shot report. Rimfire rifles–especially when outfitted with a suppressor–are as pleasant to shoot as a BB gun.

“If you have a negative experience, it’s really hard to get over that because a lot of this stuff is mental,” LeBlanc said. “To make sure kids stick with it long enough to learn gun safety–and give yourself a hunting buddy for decades to come–do everything you can to make range time a good time.”

Last Shot

Gun owners and the gun industry, more broadly, are often accused of not caring about children’s safety when it comes to firearms. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Outfits like the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation are only the latest in a long line of organizations dedicated to teaching kids how to be safe with firearms–not just how to be afraid of them. The National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program has been teaching gun safety for decades, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Project Childsafe both educates kids and gives away millions of firearm safety kits every year.

At the end of the day, LeBlanc believes that true gun safety can’t be mandated by the government or pushed by gun control groups. Instead, it has to come from responsible gun owners who do their part to keep themselves and their families safe: “I don’t want the government to tell you to do that. I just feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

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