Saturday, May 14, 2005

Real Gun Safety: Respect the Power and Fear the Consequences

If you've read here before, you might know that my father was a police officer for twenty one years. When we were growing up, my father always had at least one gun around the house if not two or more. Usually consisting of his department approved side arm, his concealed extra weapon and a rifle, shotgun or other weapon of choice (at one time, my dad owned a Tec-9).

Every night, when he came home from his shift, he would take off his gun belt and hang it on the back of the wooden chair by the door or sometimes he would hang it on the back of one of the dining room chairs. He didn't always immediately take the gun out of the holster. When he was carrying his concealed extra weapon, he would unstrap it from the ankle holster and place it on the table with his whistle, keys, badge, pens and other assorted things he would take out of his pockets. Next would come his wrist watch and his wallet.

These things would remain there untouched until it was dinner time or until the next day when he got ready for his shift. Except the pistols. At night, when he was going to bed, he would take the pistols into the bedroom with him and put them in the drawer beside the bed. He did not keep his pistols or other weapons in a locked gun cabinet. Except the Tec-9. That had its own special container that was always locked unless dad took it with him in his patrol car.

What I remember is that I can't remember a time when he did not do this nor can I remember a time when my brothers or I ever thought of these objects as something to play with.


Some folks who chant about gun control or fear purchasing a gun, site the instances of children shooting themselves or others while "playing" with a gun. This is a legitimate fear as it does happen.

The problem that I see is that children were not taught to respect the power of the weapon nor fear the consequences of what could happen if they did "play" with it. From many of the media reports of these incidents, it seems that most of the households that this occured in were homes where the pistol was kept for "home protection", but the owners did not use it on a regular basis and did not spend any time with the children showing them the gun, what it could do and did not re-enforce the consequences of using that power or what would happen if the child touched the weapon. Most of these weapons seemed to have been put away: out of site, out of mind. In many cases, it seemed the owner feared the weapon themselves and did not actually feel comfortable with it, but thought it was something they should "have".

The problem with the theory of "protecting" children from the knowledge of a weapon in the house or hiding it away is that it makes the gun a "mystery". If anyone has ever raised, worked with/around or been close with children of any age, they should know that making things a "mystery" is a sure fire way of making it something that children want to know about. And, they will find out with you or without you.

For many, this is a reason not to have a weapon in the home. It is a free country so this is a personal decision for each person.

For some in the gun control lobby and others who advocate responsibile gun ownership, the idea of trigger locks became the panacea for this problem. Honestly, it only upgrades the mystery to children. It may or may not have saved a child's life. One thing is for sure, if you lock the gun, but the children know where the key is, the lock is negated.

In either case, whether using a trigger lock or gun cabinet or none, the best way to insure that a child does not "play" with the weapon is to teach them to respect the power and fear the consequences.

By the time I was eight, my father had taught us how to pick up the gun by the handle and not touch the trigger. He would set out all of his cleaning things at the table and tell me to get his pistol from the holster. To some, the very thought of this probably strikes fear into the heart, but it had two purposes. One, my dad would re-enforce safety: don't put your finger(s) on the trigger; keep the gun pointed down; don't run; hand him the pistol by the butt. He would remind us every time we went to get the pistol as instructed. By this we learned by wrote proper gun safety. Second, it re-enforced trust. He trusted me to do as he instructed and I did not want to disappoint him. I knew that I was doing something important and did not want to jeapordize that trust.

Of course, when I was five, we weren't allowed to touch the pistol at all. At that point, I vaguely recall being told many times that it was not a toy, I wasn't to touch it and if I did I would get my hand slapped or a spanking. Even then we learned there were consequences.

My dad also took us to the range when we were older and we learned what the pistol could do. He told us that it could hurt or even kill one of us and other people. By this we learned to respect the power. He told us this was his "tool" for work and that we could not touch his "work" things, including the gun, without his permission. He did give us permission to touch the weapons, but only in his presence and under strict control.

In short order, the guns that were around the house began to lose their mystery. We knew what they were, what they could and where they were, but we did not feel compelled to search it out and check for ourselves. We already knew.

When I was ten, my dad taught me how to unload the gun, take it apart and clean it. I remember setting at our dining room table and watching him clean the barrel with the chamber sticking out of the side. This gun was a .357 Magnum Snub Nose that my dad kept as his "concealed" weapon. He would let me help him polish the pistol. I remember being told to be careful and hold the pistol by the butt/grip and not get my finger prints on the newly polished surface.

By this time, the guns had lost all mystery for me. I knew what they were, what they could do and how they worked.

When I was twelve, my dad took us out in the back of my grandparents' farm and let us shoot a ten gage shot gun. Not the most powerful shotgun on the planet, but it still had a kick, made a big noise and showed me the power of the weapon.

Personally, from my experience, if you fear the weapon so much that you cannot even bring yourself to to show and educate your children, then you will never really have effective gun safety in your home and you probably should not keep one.

Gun locks and other devices are simply buying time. Further, if you have these weapons for "home defense", by the time you get the weapon out of the gun safe or unlock the locking trigger device, your ability to confront an attacker or intruder is down to about nil.

For real Gun Safety, one should teach their children to respect the power and fear the consequences.


MichaelH121 said...

I just bought a Springfield XD SW 40 caliber pistol last year.

Had sold all my guns before that.

I grew up with guns and knew even young if I did have to touch one such as moving it I would first ensure that it was not loaded.

Even at 8 yrs old I knew enough to remove the ammo if any.

Today kids get expelled because they point a potato chip in the gun shape at another kid and go bang.

Then the bleeding heart types who won't buy their sons a toy gun are horrified when they play with sticks and use them as machine guns.

Buy a boy one of those styrofoam poles for a pool. Put him with another boy and it becomes a gun.

Maybe it's a guy thing :o)

Ask them this if I set a loaded gun on a table in 1 hour what will happen if no one touched it? In one year? 10 years?

It will never shoot itself, it does not point itself.

The anti SUV crowd writes news stories about an accident and it always says the SUV did this or that. But never does it say the driver of the SUV did that.

It slowly gets seeped into your brain that it is the SUV's fualt.

More people are on death row for using knives, axes, or bats than guns to kill.

Just like my motorcycle will not open the garage door and leave without me on it.

MichaelH121 said...

Oh yeah, saw a bumper sticker that said
"My gun has killed less people than TED Kennedy's Car"

Cruel but makes a point.

Donal said...

Whatever else you may or may not teach your children always ensure that they treat all guns as loaded even when they're not and that they are dangerous. Michael SUVs are dangerous for anyone not in one, compare the size of a standard mid-sized car to a standard SUV and you'll begin to see the problem.

alix said...

very interesting. all my adult life i've been afraid of guns. being in the same room with one makes me nervous, even when it's strapped to a police officer. my father started carrying one after the first time he was robbed, and i was always incredibly uncomfortable around it. never having been exposed to one in childhood, it's obvious i was done a disservice.

you've pointed out to me the necessity to take greater responsibility for my ignorance of the subject and to also educate my child. i've fully impressed upon her the dangers of fire, but not firepower. i'm not really sure how to begin however, as sudden loud sounds are still pretty disturbing to me...

thanks for a thoughtful post. :)

Barb said...

Kat - a 10 guage is a large shotgun! My husband has a 12-ga, and I have a 20-ga, for trap shooting. His 12 kicks much more than my 20 does.

This is a great post - you have nailed the needful thing. Education and understanding are what we need to help kids, as well as adults, know and respect firearms.

Alix - Most gun ranges have basic classes where you don't need to own a gun. They will start you with a small caliber handgun, typically a .22, which will kick little and have less noise to startle you. I suggest you start there and become comfortable yourself, as your own discomfort would be felt by your daughter - and would color her experience!

Anonymous said...

Ditto's, Kat. My thoughts exactly.

When I was a kid my dad used to take us out to some property we owned and he tought my brother and I how to shoot his .22 Not a powerful weapon, to be sure, but after you saw what even it did to a can or bottle you gained respect.

And he bought my brother and I air rifles. Heck, we even set up a little range in the basement and shot all the time (a rubber panel dropped the bbs easily). To this day you can still dig some bbs out of the wall where we missed! Mom was none too pleased but such was life back then.

Tell suburbanites today you teach your kids how to shoot and some absolutely freak out. Sad but there it is.


Scott from Oregon said...

The unexpected happens, and people get killed. My father lost a childhood friend to a gun accident.... I almost lost my head in high school to an accidentally discharged shotgun....

In both cases, the family who owned the guns were careful and responsible. It was when outsiders happened upon the weapons and discovered what they did in an alarming fashion.....

Kat said...

Scott, I see it like driving a car: accidents will happen. I was thinking back to the "frontier" days when every family owned a gun and everyone knew what it was and probably how to use it. If they didn't, they didn't survive.

Still, I don't think that it kept accidents from happening and we never can. Some things are a matter of incidents leading to the accident, like people who don't check their tires every morning and have a blow out on the highway and kill three other people when they swerve into their vehicles.

But, the most we can do is do our best to educate people about it. Since accidents can never be eliminated and neither can accidents. No one suggests that we get rid of electricity even though many people die by "accidently" touching, cutting, digging electrical wires.

Alix...I'm not sure how old your child is or if you have a gun in the house. You could go to a range and watch them shoot. you can get ear plugs and other ear protection at your local wal mart sports section. If you don't have a gun, this may be less of an immediate issue. But, you don't know what is in other people's homes so I suggest not waiting to long to get the exposure to the loud and ugly.

If you have a gun, then you should start immediately because no matter how well you hide it, children remember and can figure out ways to get things. I would also make sure that you aren't just hiding the gun, but re-enforcing that it is not a toy to be played with. When she's older (six or something right now?), you can worry about whether she knows gun safety.

MCart said...

Completely agree. My parents taught myself and my brother early on, and even when one of us got into a fight in the street in front of our house with a neighborhood dirtbag, retrieving 'ol Bess (double-barrel stage coach special) from such an accessible storage area, never EVER occurred to us.

It just wasn't an option for consideration. I'm going to have to talk to my parents about how they actually accomplished this so I can duplicate the effect in my future children.

If i'm not mistaken, two approaches were used, but I was a kid so I might have missed something.

1. Was given my OWN .22 rifle to use. Not to keep. They stored it. But it was mine, and I could use it at the gravel pit with their supervision. Having my own raised the respect and responsibility I held towards firearms.

2. They let me fire a 12 guage at a young age. Under 10 if I remember correctly. Scared the hell out of me. Saw what it did to my target. They used this to instill Firearms Rule #1 in me with that lesson.

Hal Duston said...

He did give us permission to touch the weapons, but only in his presence and under strict control.

Ah, so your father is in favor of gun control. As are we all. The primary difference between the left and the NRA is the question of who is to be in control of the gun.

Gadfly said...

I was raised with guns and was taught how to use them at a very young age. And I was taught that they were lethal and any horseplay with a gun could lead to my death or that of my brother or sister. And this is the important thing: I was taught that if I played with a gun without permission and someone got killed -- It would be MY FAULT.

I understood the responsibility of those two words, even as a young child. I never touched a gun without supervision until I was old enough to have one of my own.

By the time I was in high school, I had three long arms, and I brought a buddy home from school and I wanted to show him my new rifle. He picked it up and aimed it at the wall and pulled the trigger, which snapped on an empty chamber. I was just absolutely shocked by the igorance of that. And again I realized that was MY FAULT. I was the one who understood firearm safety, and I should have never allowed anyone to touch a gun unless I knew that they were competent to do so. That made a lasting impression on me.

Sorry, I seem to have rambled a bit here :)

Kat said...

Gadfly..that was a good ramble. I completely understand what you're saying. like letting somebody drive your car. Are you going to do it if you don't know they can drive or have a license?

Probably not. Why would you let someone touch the gun if you don't know that either?

Kris, Seattle said...

Hi Kat,

I gotta speak up on this subject as it strikes a personal chord with me. Though I too grew up in a house where all us kids were taught how to handle guns safely, I knew that not all the kids I had over to our house had that same education about guns. I also knew some kids that had been taught about guns and the related dangers but were not bright enough to consider this respect over all other emotions when it came to access to guns. I remember that when I was in high school, I would get a little nervous if any of my male friends were very interested in my dad's gun cabinet, which was usually unlocked. My point is that I understand your background on this issue.

But I have to disagree with your comment that "real GUN SAFETY" is teaching children gun safety and respect for the power and consequences of guns. Teaching respect for guns is NOT a substitute for gun locks.

A couple of years ago, a very good friend of mine had to bury her 15 year old son who was shot and killed accidentally by his best friend when he and a group of friends were handling a handgun his friend's father kept in the house. A gun lock would have prevented this tragedy and the other similar accidents that kill hundreds of children each year in this country. BTW, my friend's kid had been taught gun safety by his dad, who was an avid hunter.

Your comment is that "Gun locks are only buying time". That part is right. They buy time to avoid the accident that will kill an innocent child. That is exactly their purpose.

I have yet to hear of the complaint of any gun owner, angry that they could not defend themselves fast enough for having to remove a gun lock. Yet whenever there is an accidental shooting of a child, you have a good chance of seeing a sobbing adult, remorseful that a gun lock could and would have prevented a tragedy.

Kat said...

Kris...I completely understand where you're coming from. Seriously, using gun locks aren't bad and I didn't mean to imply that, but I think that teaching "real gun safety" is the number one important role of anyone that is going to have guns in their house.

Gun locks and safes only add to that, they don't replace it.

Gadfly said...


That is a tragedy. I can't begin to imagine the feeling of nurturing a child for 15 years and then having them killed by a clumsy mistake.

One thing I can do, however, is be rational about it. This case is no more or less tragic than when a 15-year-old child uses an automobile without permission and ends their life. And this happens much more frequently. And yet, no one is required to keep the keys to their automobile locked in a safe. They're right there on the hook or on the TV.


The teaching (and instilling a healthy fear of consequences) is the important thing,

Kris, Seattle said...

This was a good subject Kat. We agree that gun safety education is fundamental. But IMO, any parent with an unlocked handgun in the house who believes that their children are protected by their training so they don't need a gun lock, those people are gambling with their children's lives. It's that simple. Ask the owner of any gun that was used in a child's accidental death if the gun owner wished they had used a trigger lock.

Kris, Seattle said...

And to add a comment to everyone who wants to use the car analogy, try wearing it this way...

The resistance to use a trigger lock to protect a child would be equivalent to not letting your children wear a seatbelt when you know it would reduce the chance of serious injury in an accident.

riceburner147 said...

Kat, when my daughters were (approx) 6 & 8 i took them to a farm that lets people use a gravel pit as a shooting range. I brought with me large cans of tomato soup and some watermelons. My 12 Gauge pump made a real impression on them when they saw the soup explode and the melons shredded. I also taught that ALL guns are loaded etc. To this day, they are uninterested in guns, BUT, they know what to do and what not to do with them. BTW, "Gun control is 2 firm hands on the grip". Also saw a bumper sticker..."Poland had gun control" :)

are you sure that was a 10 gauge (not a .410) I love my .410, it is single shot and i have modified it to have a pistol grip and 18" barrel, loaded with 7 shot it cant go thru a wall inadvertantly and can stop someone at short range but, "probably" not kill. Its my walking around the property at night when i hear a noise gun. For more serious trouble i have a M1-A. (Seriously, i am VERY non-violent, and prefer locking the door and calling 911)

Kat said...

Kris...children under 6 have been seriously injured in minor fender benders while wearing a seat belt. Internal injuries can result. That's why they advocate car seats for children up to 8 these days.

However, I'm still not saying that gun locks aren't valid, but I am still saying that they don't replace common sense and education if you're going to keep a gun in the house. know, I think you're right (I know pistols better than shotguns), probably was a .410. Almost looked like an .22 with bold action. Used it later to kill snakes.

Thanks for correcting me.

Kat said...

That's *bolt* action, not *bold*

can't type.

Sgt. B. said...

In reference to the gun lock arguement:

The loss of a child (or anybody) to an accidental discharge is a tragedy...


Does the failure lay in the fact that the gun was not locked, or does the failure lay in the fact that somebody was poking around where they should not have been?

I don't believe in gun locks that secure the firearm in such security that I can't get at it quickly and easily. (Where I live, it isn't the criminal element, it is the predator element (they don't call it "Cougar Country" for nothing).

My kids understand that when Dad points and something (be it a pistol, rifle, sword, or a freshly baked chocolate cake) and says, "Don't touch it." I mean DON'T TOUCH IT. The object in question will stay untouched for eternity, if need be.

I do, however, keep the guns stored in a sfae location, and the kids know where they are, and that poing around in that area is a spanking offence. I also have followed the same "take the mystery out of guns" by letting them satisfy their curiousity, under my supervision.

But gun locks are not the single and solitary answer to preventing accidental discharges...