I was 12 years old, my son’s current age, when I rode my bike to a friend’s house. In the 1980s, I lived in the panhandle of Florida, where guns were as common as rebel flag curtains. My family owned neither guns nor rebel flags.
This friend and his brother looked like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, just not as clean or intelligent. Dee wanted to show me something in his parent’s bedroom. In between the mattress and box spring sat a handgun. I recall the pearl handle and Dee pointing it at my face. I laughed it off but remembered being uncomfortable. After all, we always played soldiers with fake Berettas in the woods. Thirty years later, as a father, I realize how serious the situation was and could have been. And now, thanks to COVID and general societal unease, the number of new gun owners has given me pause.
The New Shooter
In 2020 alone, there were five million new gun owners in the U.S., according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. These aren’t folks who already have guns; they are people like my mom who have never owned or operated firearms in their lives. Yet they felt the need (for numerous reasons) to buy a gun—in mom’s case, a semi-auto 9mm, quickly exchanged for a hammerless .38 revolver. A good move on the swap, yet I’m still on the fence about her owning a handgun. She’s in her 70’s now, and I don’t know if she has ever shot it. The concealed carry class is not on her to-do list. Now, think about that that five million figure for a minute. Let’s assume a generous 80 percent of these new gun owners know how to safely handle a firearm and store it. That leaves one million new Tweedledees out there, putting others, like my kids, at risk.
Of course, I am assuming careless people exist. I am unaware of any surveys asking gun owners, “Hey, are you an idiot when it comes to gun safety and storage?”
Be the example
So, rather than pretend guns don’t exist, I teach my kids about them, the proper way to handle them, and the immense responsibility of living with them. Why?
For starters, I own guns. Even though they are locked away and not under a mattress, they are still in my house. As a gun owner and parent, it’s on me to ensure they are handled safely and responsibly by my kids and me.
Second, not everyone stores their guns responsibly. Tweedledee’s so-called parents are one example. Here’s another. Last year I was helping a neighbor (who has kids my age) clean his garage. On the floor was a gym bag with a handgun and a loaded clip—just hanging out next to the dog food. Were my kids to find it, my sincere hope is that I had done my job, and they would walk home immediately and tell me. I have since spoken to both my kids about it.
Take them hunting
Rather than just telling my kids guns can be dangerous, I show them first-hand. We plink soda cans, shoot targets, and hunt deer. In every outing that involves guns, there are steadfast rules about muzzle control, situational awareness, proper use of the safety, and the list goes on. Because both kids want to one-up the other, they want to be better marksmen than their sibling. It’s a game but one in which they learn how to be safe around firearms. When they screw up and forget where that muzzle is pointed, they miss their turn, get a lecture and earn the right to wash and vacuum the truck.
While neither kid of mine has been with me on a hunt where I killed an elk or deer, they have seen me shoot a grouse in the head with a .22. It was an experience none of us will forget—the spurting blood, the flopping wings, the breast meat breaded and fried to perfection. They understand that my rifles are used to take the life of a living thing, and I hope that seriousness translates to the handgun sitting inside the locked closet as well. Yes, they are only kids, but they seem to understand what firearms can do to a living creature, whether four-legged or two. It’s a heavy load for a 9-year-old, and I’m okay with that.
If and when my son or daughter has an encounter with their own Tweedledee, I want them to know how to come out of it alive. Better yet, I hope they avoid the situation altogether.