Today’s piece could be beginning an actual series of book reviews about teaching kids responsible gun use (see Safety On: And introduction to the world of firearms for children by Yehuda Remer).
Providing firearms training may seem like a non-medical aspect of gun ownership, but it really carries huge implications for peoples’ health. Firearms accidents keep declining, thanks to better educated gun owners, but each one is still enormously consequential in loss, debility, expense, and to the psyche.
Guns, like The Truth, are Out There, over 350 million in the United States now. That freaks out hoplophobes, who can’t imagine how anyone rests easy surrounded by all that firepower.
But gun safety does NOT mean restricting access to firearms, except in the most urgent need. We at DRGO encounter this false equivalence over and over in our professional literature and debunk it constantly.
Gun safety means handling firearms correctly. It is refreshing to find others motivated not just to proclaim that, but to explain exactly what that means and how to teach that in home and family. Formal shooting courses are terrific for building skills and confidence, but the reality is that almost everyone’s introduction to firearms takes place less formally. It more than likely happens sometime in childhood, intentionally or not, at your own or someone else’s place.
In Remer’s book we saw a father introducing his son to the family gun stock, serving as a very nice example of how it can be done. The writing is simple and direct, non-judgmental, and easy even for a grade schooler to read.
But what do we adults need to know in order to do a great job of educating and mentoring kids about firearm and shooting safety? That’s a different and very complementary subject. It’s very thoroughly covered by Jerry Luciano in Guns The Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearms Safety and Shooting. (By the way, Jerry is “Ace” to his friends which, I learned upon meeting him at the recent National Rifle Association Annual Meeting, is everyone he knows.)
In the introduction, Phil Bourjally, Field and Stream magazine‘s shotgun columnist, poses some of the questions taken on in the book: “How old should a child be before learning to shoot? Who should be his or her teacher? How do you teach important lessons about guns?” With the eyes of Texas and all of society upon us, it matters more than ever that we think these questions through carefully and come up with very solid approaches. Luciano does this, and thereby helps us do it for ourselves.
Luciano goes whole hog with his “10 Commandments of Firearm Safety”, not just the “4 Cardinal Rules”. But as he describes his experiences teaching kids (over 10,000 so far) the reader sees how all of these fall naturally into the experiential course of events for the learner and become completely ingrained over time without demanding memorization and testing.
In fact, well before introducing these, he discusses what may be the most important list: “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play”. Is he talking about “gunplay”? Not in the usual way.
While these ideas are specifically about how to connect with preschoolers, the value of learning through play applies to all youth and, in fact, to all of us when it is more broadly construed. Learning, like play, happens most easily in the child’s context (not the adult’s). It should not be stressful; done right, it is stress-relieving. It needs unpressured time with nothing intruding, and it’s great done outside. Playfulness is also the right attitude by the teacher. That doesn’t mean being unserious, but having a good time with the kid(s) involved promotes their own enthusiasm and engagement in the activity.
In that age group he recommends, as DRGO does, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program supported by the NRA. Did you know that “Anyone may teach the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, and that NRA membership is not required?” No excuses. (Although some mothers of questionable ability accuse it of being “propaganda” able to undo “seven years of parenting in one hour”. It must be effective!)
The rest of the book is filled with the carefully thought out and presented ways that Luciano introduces concepts and helps youth develop reliability and skill with firearms. He proffers drills for everything, beginning with simply how to hold a gun in a safe way, never mind aiming. He discusses different personalities and their various strengths and weaknesses in learning. The prime lesson is always to understand how to relate one’s material and oneself to the audience in whatever way is most natural for them—not simply how we ordinarily would or how we learned ourselves.
Which guns for which kids for what purposes (meaning, for what learning points as well as for what shooting goals)? Covered. Which is the ultimately most important safety rule? (Hint: It’s not “Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.” ) Where to shoot, what to use for targets for different kids and calibers? That’s here. How to (and more important, why) introduce young shooters to competition and hunting? Sure. What resources are available to use, to direct people to, to learn more about how to help others learn? There’s a whole chapter. How can one deal with hair-trigger (pun intended) educators and anxious playmate parents? You’ll find good advice here. The book even ends with a chapter that refreshes the reader about what was covered in all the other chapters.
But that’s not all! A bonus afterword lifts the first two chapters of Massad Ayoob’s recent book, Gun Safety in the Home. These cover “Core Firearms Safety Principles” and “Firearms Storage in the Home”. Ayoob’s discussion of storage options insists on safety but doesn’t pretend that one size fits all, because it can’t.
Luciano is wordy, but not in a tiresome way. He is an articulate, plain-spoken writer, covering so much material in 167 pages that it can only be done with lots of sentences in a bit smaller print than many books. Much of the material is relevant and referenced again to new points as he proceeds, but this helps ground the reader even more solidly in the author’s philosophy. He includes a good number of personal stories of his own gun education that may not be strictly necessary but do make the education advice flow more easily. Still, the publisher (Gun Digest Books of F+W Media) fit in plenty of black-and-white photos that illustrate the text at all the right points. Color inside as well as on the cover would have been nice, but would no doubt have increased the nice price too.
This is another book I can positively recommend to anyone helping youth from pre-school to teens enjoy learning about guns and how to use them safely and effectively. In fact, it is an excellent review of material that should have been in all of our basic education about firearms, not just for our kids’. It expanded how I think about firearms and would be useful in helping people of any age get involved with shooting.
Buy it, read it, then dip in where it is most relevant to what you’re doing with your and other’s children as you introduce them to the challenging, fun world of shooting. After educating yourself with Luciano’s book, pick up and use Remer’s Safety On (the picture book and, when desired, the accompanying coloring book) with the primary grade ages. You and your charges will be the better for it.
— DRGO Editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.