Children, Guns, and Tough Decisions

The blogosphere is abuzz with a news story out of Oklahoma about a twelve year old girl who was home alone when a bad guy – with a prior criminal conviction for abducting a 17-year-old – broke into the house. The young lady in question did everything right, in my opinion, calling her mom and then, on mom’s advice, barricading herself in the closet with the family pistol and calling 9-1-1.

When the intruder entered the bedroom where she was hiding, she fired at the suspect, wounding him. He was arrested outside and airlifted to a hospital in Texas.

I encourage you to read what Kathy at Cornered Cat and AGirl over at A Girl and Her Gun have written about the topic, and I wanted to add my own comment here because the issue of allowing kids the ability to gain access to firearms is one I’ve wrestled with for some time.

On one hand, I absolutely believe that if a child is old and mature enough to be left home alone, she or he is old and mature enough to handle having access to a firearm to keep her/himself safe. I don’t buy the “pad the corners of life” parenting style that seems so prevalent these days. If you have a gun in your house and your kid isn’t responsible enough to be safe handling it, she’s not responsible enough to be left at home alone.

I also remember too well the Merced, CA “pitchfork murders” of August, 2000, where two children were killed by a home invader because their older sister – who knew how to shoot, and had passed a hunter safety course – was unable to access her father’s locked .357 revolver in time to stop the threat. As a matter of fact, I have a friend who lives in Merced. Had Jessica Carpenter been able to access the handgun in time, her siblings might not have died, but California’s “safe storage” laws prevented that outcome.

So, on the one hand it’s easy for me to say, “we need to step up as parents, teach our kids to be safe around guns, and stop trying to protect them from the real world.” But, for me at least, it’s not that simple.

My daughter, “Nutmeg”, just turned seventeen years old. She was adopted from the foster care system and has already survived things in her young life which turn my stomach. And, statistics show that, having already been victimized in the past, she’s more likely to be victimized again in the future. So it would seem that teaching her to shoot would be a no brainer. Ah, would that life were that simple.

You see, as a result of factors in her childhood that were outside of my control, Nutmeg has some mental health issues. I won’t go into what they are out of respect for her privacy, but suffice it to say that she has challenges around exercising good judgment and controlling her impulsivity. This is why I don’t leave her home alone, and it’s why the idea of her having access to a gun makes me decidedly uncomfortable.

I recognize that I am making a non-ideal choice in that regard, and that it really WOULD be good for her to learn the same skills I’m fighting so hard to acquire myself. She IS vulnerable to victimization, and she deserves to have the skills, tools and training to protect herself just as much as I do. And at the same time, I agonize over how to do that safely given her issues. Were she a “neurotypical” kid without the issues she has, it’d be a different issue. Had I been parenting her since she was a baby, I’d be in a different place. But reality is what it is, and so I’m in the uncomfortable position of making a choice that I’m not happy with because it’s better, for right now, than the other choices I could make which I’d also be unhappy with. (Side note: If anyone reading this has confronted the same issues and has insights to share, I’d love to hear them. Drop me a private email if you’d like to talk.)

In general, I absolutely agree that we need to teach our kids responsibility – which includes responsibility around firearms – and then we need to give them the freedom which attends that responsibility. We can’t protect them from everything dangerous in the world. We have to let them grow up, and help them acquire the skills they’ll need along the way. I recognize that my situation with Nutmeg is a bit of a special case, that I’m making a conscious trade-off I might not otherwise make. I hope, in time, that her ability will continue to improve to the point that I CAN teach those skills.

But to say “no kid should ever have access to a gun” is, of course, just as absurd as saying “all kids should have unfettered access to guns”. The anti-gunners can find examples of tragic outcomes where kids had access to guns. But it’s just as possible to find stories, like this one from Oklahoma, where access to a gun prevented a tragedy. There’s no way to do more than speculate as to what the criminal might have done to the young lady in Oklahoma, had she not been able to access and use her mom’s pistol. There’s no way to deny it probably wouldn’t have been a good thing.


  1. Mark Cronenwett says:

    We took the view that weapons are just tools used in an offensive way. My kids learned at a very early age what they were, not to touch them unless allowed, etc.. They were also allowed to fire them any time they wanted by just asking. That took a lot of the mystery out of it. We even tested them several times. Now that they are teenagers, they don’t think much of it, and they still ask to go shooting. They do have access as I trust them, and they are left home alone. Being very rural, you never know what might happen.

    As for Nutmeg, perhaps what she needs to learn is some defensive hand to hand arts. No it is not perfect, but it should not leave her defenseless either. We used to foster ourselves, so I am aware at least a bit of the situation you are in.

    • That’s a good thought, Mark, about defensive hand-to-hand skills. I’ll have to talk about it with her. Thanks for commenting!

      • Excellent idea. Other parts of learning some form of martial art are actually even more important than the chance it might enable her to defend herself against an attacker. Most martial arts, by their very nature, teach self control, self awareness/acceptance, situational awareness and much more. If Nutmeg will actually apply herself to learning judo or one of the other disciplines, she has a very good chance of learning all or most of the other life skills she obviously needs to form good judgment and become completely responsible.

        You might start her with a relatively simple form such as Tai Chi – offered in many YWCA and adult education programs – and see how she does. Or she may wish to go directly into a formal program in a local dojo… Let her explore the possibilities, talk to various teachers and make up her own mind. It could make an awesome difference.

      • She and I are discussing the idea. She has somewhat of a challenge with perseverance in the face of a difficult task, but we shall see what she decides. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. AGirl says:

    I think you are doing exactly what I believe.

    You are aware if your child’s strengths and challenges and you are looking for a solution that not only will help her defend herself against a bad guy, but also from her own limits. Your being a parent. Not every child should have access to guns…young kids, those with limitations, those with mental issues such as suicidal thoughts etc. I do not advocate all kids have access to guns. I advocate parents evaluating their kids and if respsosible and capable giving them the knowledge and skills to add one more layer of protection.

    Great post!

    • I do know my daughter’s limits, and at the same time I worry about the consequences of the choice I’ve made. I guess that’s what being a parent is about – weighing relative risks and making the best decision you can given the competing priorities.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting – I KNOW how busy you are lately.

  3. Ron Metts says:

    I am in a similar situation to you. My wife and I just adopted 3 children. Because of Department of Social Services sensitivities, I only showed the children my guns once in the 3 years they were foster children..that was to show them just how damaging they could be. (on a milk jug full of water). Now that we have adopted them (they are now 9, 11, and 12) I want to teach them to handle a weapon safely. Will start with the rifle, then move on to the pistol or shotgun, but none of them are willing to learn. I can’t force them, and they don’t get left home alone, but I still think they at least need a basic understanding of the skill. We’ll see I guess. I commend you on stepping up and adopting a child so in need of love and protection.

    • That’s a tough one, Ron. I suspect that your example will be most important in changing this. Let them see you handle your guns as often as possible, take them with you when you go to the range, even if they are not interested. When they know that guns can be handled responsibly and safely, they may well change their minds. They have no doubt been conditioned carefully in this fear and distrust of guns, so it will take time and patience. Bless you.

    • Thanks for this, Ron!

    • I met someone who DID NOT want to learn to shoot, but who was getting into a relationship with a shooter. I offered her a no-shooting class. She learned the safety rules (always point the gun in a safe direction, etc.) and how to unload the different firearms her significant other owned.

      She still doesn’t shoot, but she’s not worried when he goes to the range, and she’s capable of safely handling his guns (and others) if she needs to.

      • That’s an excellent idea, Larry. I think it makes a lot of sense for a non-shooter who lives with guns to at least know how to handle them safely.

        Thanks for your comment!

  4. Guilt is the occupational hazard of parenthood. It does not matter what choice you make — if it goes wrong in some way, you will live with “what if” for the entire rest of your life.

    Children don’t come with guarantees. The best you can do is to do the best you can.

    • Sage advice, my friend. I seem to recall Rory Miller saying something about how, in a violent situation, no matter what decisions you make you’ll second guess them afterward. Parenting is like that, too, I’ve found. You make the best choices you can make at the time, and hope for the best.

    • That is the truth about so much in life. No guarantees, and sometimes there are simply no perfect choices available, even if we had plenty of time to think of one. But if we are in the habit of doing right, choosing that which does not aggress on others, and include ourselves among those who have a right to life and happiness, we are not apt to go terribly wrong.

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