Just ask any avid shooter, and they’ll be able to fondly recount the first time they fired a gun, even if it was more than a few years ago. In many families, that first trip to the shooting range is a rite of passage. We’ve helped friends, neighbors, and customers in our neighborhood choose the perfect starter rifle for their children, and one of the questions we hear over and over again is this:
How old should my child be before I start teaching her/him to shoot?
It’s an important question. Firearms are fascinating to children, largely because they have the extra allure of being forbidden and dangerous. Think of how cool it looks when James Bond creeps around corners, pistol in hand, ready to take on the bad guys and save the world. Now, remember how you used to feel when you were little and your parents did “grownup stuff” without you – didn’t you want to do those things, too? If you’re a sportsman with young children, odds are pretty good that your kids are begging to be allowed to shoot a gun of their very own.
There’s really no one-size-fits-all answer regarding the perfect age to start teaching your kids to shoot. Every person, every child, every family, is different. Sweeping, uniform rules that don’t take the individual into account…those are for the government to make. At Gadsden Guns, we’re realistic, and we recognize that some decisions are too important and personal to apply cookie-cutter logic.
That doesn’t mean we’re not going to help you determine whether your child is old enough to start shooting, by the way. We’re just saying that age doesn’t have anything to do with maturity, dexterity, attentiveness, or skill. Even two siblings might not be ready at the same age, as we’ve seen demonstrated repeatedly.
Instead of setting an age limit, a more practical (and safer) solution is to look for certain signs of responsibility and maturity. We’ll give you some tips about what you should be looking for, and how you can communicate these requirements to your child, but first, a note about having guns and kids in the same house:
Any time there are children and firearms under the same roof, even if those guns are locked in a safe and unloaded, that child should 1) know that the guns are there, and 2) have age-appropriate understanding of firearm safety. Explain to them on a regular basis that there are firearms in the house, and that they, like electrical outlets and kitchen appliances, can be very dangerous if they’re handled improperly. Something as simple as allowing your kids to see and touch unloaded guns under your direct supervision takes the mystery and allure out of any that they might come across while going through your things…and your kids are absolutely going through your things. As soon as they are old enough to physically pick up a gun, it’s time to start teaching them about firearm safety.
Trying to hide your guns from your kids will not work, and can result in a very dangerous situation! A child that discovers a gun unexpectedly, who has not been taught firearm safety or been allowed to see a firearm before, is much more likely to try to play with it in secret. Not only is it a new and mysterious object, but it’s also a grownup object that grownups don’t want to talk to him or her about, so the curiosity is much stronger.
On the other hand, a child who knows that there are guns in the house, and knows that they can ask to see one with parental supervision, is far less likely to have a deadly accident. Make it clear that firearms are not scary, but they can be dangerous if used incorrectly. In the unlikely event that he or she finds one of your guns somewhere in the house, the daughter or son that already knows what it is and how it works is far more likely to follow your rules and leave it alone.
Of course, you’re still responsible for keeping your firearms secure and out of the wrong hands, even if you don’t have children. In the event of a break-in, secure storage helps keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and odds are you have friends or family who don’t have experience with gun safety. Your car, your appliances, and your weapons are all your responsibility, and it’s up to you to make sure they’re all used safely. Keep in mind that, when your child has a friend over, that friend might not have had the same kind of upbringing and education about guns. It’s not something that’s taught in school. We recommend talking to your sons and daughters about what to do if one of their friends finds a gun in your house, and make it clear that your kids shouldn’t let their friends wander around the house unsupervised or go into off-limits areas. Many accidents involving children and firearms occur when one child wants to show a gun they found to their friend, so it’s up to you to be extra diligent when your kids have friends over to visit. Proper education is the single most effective way to prevent accidents!
We’ve already established that firearm safety training begins years before ever taking your kids to the range, but it’s important, so we’ll say it again. You might even consider using airsoft or beebee guns to start, teaching the shooting basics and rules of gun safety.
Before they’re ready to graduate to a .22, usually a rifle because it’s easier to teach safe muzzle direction with a longer gun, your children should show the following signs:
- Solid listening skills. Your child should pay attention when you ask or tell them to do something, and should respond immediately. If he or she has a tendency to ignore you when you give directions, it’s not time to put a gun in her or his hands. This is the single most important sign of maturity to look for when considering whether or not your child is ready to shoot! She or he must be completely trustworthy when it comes to following directions.
- Responsibility for personal items. Shooting requires a certain respect for the gun. A child who is ready to start learning marksmanship should generally take care of her/his personal belongings, and should have a high level of awareness. For example, if he/she has a favorite toy that gets carried around and left in stores and restaurants regularly, that’s not a good sign, but if there’s a favorite item that she/he takes especially good care of, it’s an indication of responsibility.
- Reliable knowledge of firearm safety. Quiz her or him about the rules of gun safety. Ask what he or she would do in certain situations, and make sure that the answers indicate real knowledge and not just memorized phrases. “What if your gun jams? What would you do?” is a valid question, and probably something you haven’t talked about before. It takes some thought, and the ability to apply what she or he has already learned. NOTE: with all new shooters, young, old, and in between, we recommend printing out the five basic safety rules and posting them on your bathroom mirror or fridge, somewhere you’ll see them every day.
- Spacial awareness and coordination. Hand-eye coordination doesn’t come easily to everybody. Before ever handling a loaded gun, it’s important that a child be very aware of where her/his hands are and what’s going on around him/her at all times. Safe shooting requires enough coordination and body awareness to handle a weapon.
- Ability to focus amidst distractions. Easily distracted kids should not be on the firing line. Just turning to look at one thing going on in the background can result in disaster with a gun in hand, so it’s vital that he or she can be trusted to pay attention and focus.
- A little bit of physical strength. This should be obvious. Your kid should be able to hold a gun at arm’s length without dropping it. Choosing an appropriate starter gun will help with this.
- Emotional stability. This goes hand-in-hand with general maturity level. Everyone has mood swings and cranky moments from time to time, and that includes both adults and children, but your son or daughter should be completely over the tendency to have tantrums before beginning any real shooting practice. You can’t afford a meltdown over a gun malfunction or difficulty in hitting the target. A child is mature enough to start shooting when they can deal with frustration and anger constructively and calmly.
As a parent, you probably already have a pretty good idea of the level of responsibility your kids display. Nobody knows your children like you do, and nobody else is qualified to make decisions regarding their safety. Go with your gut – even if your kid seems to meet all of these criteria and is begging to be allowed to start shooting, if you don’t feel like it’s right, don’t do it. Your instincts are there for a reason. And don’t forget the safety glasses and hearing protection…good habits start with good foundations!
A kid that’s old enough to shoot is old enough to understand these requirements and the reasons behind them, so use that fact to your advantage. Is your 10-year-old begging for a trip to the range? Explain that she or he needs to prove that they’re ready, and they can prove it by living up to their household responsibilities and demonstrating those good listening skills and laser-like focus. It might not make sense to them to demand that they clean out the gutters as a way to prove their maturity, but it DOES make sense that kids who fight constantly with their siblings aren’t emotionally stable enough to start shooting. Set clear goals and boundaries, and don’t give in too early. They might whine, but that’s the price of safety.
If you’re already sure that your little one is ready, we have some tried-and-true recommendations for starter rifles. This Rascal by Savage Arms (in a fashionable shade of pink, no less) is a reliable, relatively inexpensive starter. It’s small enough for little arms to handle, easy to operate, and its price makes it ideal as a starter, since it will probably be outgrown in a few years.
For a rifle worthy of handing down through the generations, we love this Henry “Evil Roy” Lever Action .22LR. With a hexagonal barrel and walnut stock, it’s as attractive as it is trustworthy, and its action is wonderfully smooth. Henry rifles are an American tradition. We know scores of shooters who started on a Henry, and the guns are still in the family today. Plus, it’s fun for us grownups, too.
Don’t stress too much about the “right age” and just apply a little common sense. Shooting is supposed to be fun, and when the whole family shoots together, it’s a great experience. Abide by the basic rules of safety, and enjoy yourself. And if you’re ever unsure, it’s okay to err on the side of caution. You really do know what’s best.
Special thanks to our friends and customers who provided their own personal images for use in this post. It’s incredible how much support we’ve received from our community since starting this business, and we look forward to serving you for many years to come!