“Mommy, Why Do You Have a Gun?”

20130120-125837.jpgMWaG Facebook fan Dana Edwards Stallings asked a question yesterday that I’ve been meaning to talk about here. She wrote:

Any recommended articles on how to approach CC with my toddlers? I believe in an open, honest policy with my girls (ages 2.5 & 4) but I’m curious as to what Mom With a Gun recommends when they see mom carrying?

As it happens, I’ve been discussing this topic recently with a friend who’s the mom of three small kids and a new shooter and gun owner. So I have a few general thoughts, but I’m also thinking about going into some of these areas in more depth. If this is something you’d be interested in exploring more deeply, please let me know in the comments.

In no particular order, then, here are a few of my initial thoughts about making the choice to employ armed self-defense with little ones.

Approach the topic in an age-appropriate way. There’s obvious harm that comes from scaring the bejeezus out of your kids, but I think there’s also harm that comes from trying to sugar coat reality. You don’t want your kids’ first exposure to the idea that there are bad people in the world to come when they find themselves up-close-and-personal with a monster. For little kids, I might say something as simple as “mommy has a gun so she can use it to keep you safe.” Older kids deserve more information, and you’re the best judge as to what your kids need to know.

Make sure your kids know how to be safe with guns. If you’re going to have guns around your children, preventing tragedy is an absolute necessity. All the common-sense measures apply here: keeping your guns on your person or locked up at all times, teaching your kids the Eddie Eagle gun safety rules, and demystifying guns so they’re not some forbidden thing your kids feel tempted to explore. Kathy Jackson has an excellent article about this last subject, which is required reading in my view. As your kids get older and more responsible, teaching them to shoot is of course an option too.

Make your kids part of your safety plan. What this looks like depends on the age, maturity and personality of your kids, of course. For younger kids, I think that there are two useful things you might want to teach and practice with your kids. The first is a pre-arranged word (such as “emergency”) that means “something really bad is happening, so do what you’re told as quickly as possible and ask questions later.” Whether the emergency is a bad guy, a fire, or something else, there are times when seconds count, and in those instances it’s really helpful to be able to count on quick compliance. The other command word I think would be useful to practice and drill is the word “down!”, to which your kids should respond by dropping to the floor (behind cover if possible) as quickly as they can. This can be made into a fun game for the kids, but is also a way to get them out of the line of fire in a hurry. Older kids could take a more active role in safety responses, including helping to evacuate siblings or even (for kids who are old and mature enough) responding solo when they’re home alone.

Make the fact that you’re armed just a normal part of life. Notwithstanding the above, the best way to approach concealed carry with your kids is to present it as a normal part of your life that you don’t make a big deal about. We have fire drills and keep extinguishers in our homes and schools, but otherwise those measures aren’t something we make into a big deal. We practice the skills, we maintain the equipment, and we know what to do when there’s an emergency. (As a matter of fact, when I was a summer camp counselor, I remember once having an actual fire in the middle of a fire drill. We just quietly went ahead with the drill and the campers were none the wiser.) Carrying a firearm is much the same thing, and if it’s normal and not a big deal for us, it’ll be normal and not a big deal for our kids.

All that said, I want to add one important caveat and a request to you, my readers. My experience in this area is limited by the fact that I’ve only had one child and because she wasn’t biologically mine, I missed out on parenting her when she was young. My experience with young children is all secondhand, through the kids of friends and family members, and so there’s a limit to what I can say about introducing small kids to guns. That said, I would love to hear from other parents who’ve tackled this issue. If you’re a mom (or dad) and you’d be willing to write a guest post about this topic, please drop me a note. I’m just one woman, and I’d love to include other voices in this discussion.

Comments

  1. Susan Puryear says:

    Both the above and the excellent linked article from Kathy Jackson are great. There is really no advice I can add except to assure you that you are on the right track.

    In 1975 I became a police officer. General Order #1 was that no commissioned officer was to leave their own home without being armed 24/7. So, I was certainly a Mom with a gun; the only one my sons ever saw. We lived in IL (the only state that still has no provision for civilian concealed carry) and between the city police and country sheriff’s office there were 13 women with badges and most were single and childless. City population around 130,000. But, I wore a sidearm to Mother’s Club meetings at my kindergartner’s school, to church, to shop, etc. You get the picture…

    My sons were 3 & 5 years old when I was sworn in. Understanding the natural curiosity of my boys I did not want a tragedy to happen so I took my sons to a fellow officers private range in the country and taught them to actually shoot my .38 revolver. I know most parents would shudder at the thought of a 3 year old firing a .38, but he did! I was on my knees behind him with my arms around his body and with me supporting the 2 lb weight of the gun he squeezed off 1 round at an empty soda can a few feet away.

    I also taught them the 4 cardinal rules of gun safety. Each fired the gun once and refused my offer to try again. I also took a gallon size plastic milk jug filled with water with us. I explained to them that the milk jug was much like their bodies and then put one round into the milk jug. We then examined the small hole going in and the 4″+ exit hole. This was so they could understand the destructive power of the bullet.

    They were told that if they wanted to shoot again all they had to do was ask and we would return to “Uncle Jerry’s” and do it where it was safe. They were also instructed that if they wanted to show Mommy’s guns to friends, that too was allowed with Mommy’s help.

    Neither of my sons ever asked to so much as touch that firearm again until they were grown. On one day when I returned from the police deptartment’s practice range, I placed the revolver, with the empty cylinder open and no bullets in sight, on newspapers at one end of the dining room table in preparation for cleaning it and went to put a load of laundry in the washer. My oldest came to the basement laundry room to ask if he could sit at the dining room table to draw. I told him, “yes” and he headed back upstairs. A couple of minutes later he was back in the laundry room telling me, “Mommy, come move your gun so I can use the table”. I had expected him to sit at the opposite end and we could both use the table, but he obviously did not approve of that arrangement. *grin*

    Both have told me in recent years that their first visit to the range was enough to convince them they were not ready to play with real guns until they were much older. Today, both are in their 40s and we enjoy range time together and work together to teach their children to shoot. So far 5 of my 9 grandchildren have had range time with Dad and Grannie.

    I firmly believe that education is the best way to safeguard children. Teach them as early as you think they can understand and answer their questions when asked. In answering their questions, make sure you answer exactly what they asked and don’t give info they didn’t ask for. They will let you know when they are ready to learn more.

    As pointed out in the article, parents are the best judge of what their children are ready to learn. If you have firearms in the home, by all means, teach them as early as you think they might understand and keep teaching them as they grow.

    Sadly, one of my fellow officers simply told his children, “it is a tool I use for work, don’t touch it!”. One evening this officer and his wife were chatting with a neighbor a few doors down the street from their home when their 10 year old son picked up one of Dad’s loaded revolvers. Just the natural curiosity of a boy; this child had no intention of firing the gun, but accidents do happen in the hands of those not trained. Unfortunately, the bullet went through a wall and into his 12 year old sister’s brain in another room. Over the next several years I watched as this family was completely torn apart by this one incident. If only the child had been taught firearm safety…

    • Thank you so much for your perspective, Susan! I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, the tragic story of your fellow officer’s family illustrates something I’ve said before: Pretending the world is a cozy safe place where nothing is dangerous might help you sleep at night, but reality is what it is, and part of our jobs as parents is to prepare our kids for the real world. And part of that, in my view, is honestly teaching our kids – in an age appropriate way – about the dangers that are out there and how to cope with them. When we fail to do that, it’s at our peril.

  2. Tammy, Kathy, and Susan have done an excellent job of stating what should be done. My wife and I have carried since well before our boys were born. As Susan did, we started them at a young age to demystify firearms. They have been drilled and drilled on safety. Also, due to the diligence of us, at a young age they themselves would realize that some people would make them uncomfortable. We would get a question in the middle of a store, very quietly, asking if we were carrying. They just consider it normal, and wonder why people would not want to protect their family members.

    Of course now we have a problem at 11 and 13.. they are ammo monsters!!! They compete in USPSA and 3 Gun, so we go through a ton of it. They even started getting their girlfriends involved..

    • “Of course now we have a problem at 11 and 13.. they are ammo monsters!!! They compete in USPSA and 3 Gun, so we go through a ton of it. They even started getting their girlfriends involved.”

      But, relatively speaking, that’s a good problem to have, no? Thanks for weighing in, Mark!

  3. Dana Stallings says:

    Great! Thank you! You touched on many points I’ve considered and agree with but I particularly like the command words in the safety plan and we will begin practice and implementation immediately! Susan Puryear also makes some interesting points in her comments that I appreciate. I certainly look forward to you exploring this topic and thank you again!

  4. Great article, as always Tammy. A truly important subject, and one that is not discussed nearly enough even among women who do own guns and carry.

    I recommend that any woman, especially those with both children and guns, take the “Personal Protection in The Home” class from the NRA. It will help you think about all of the things involved in home defense, preparing and using a “safe room” and getting your children prepared to follow directions in an emergency.

    This class is not perfect, of course, and there are lots of other things you can do to prepare and train your family for these emergencies, but it’s a good start.

    • Thanks for this! I’ve heard good things about that NRA course, and a friend of mine who’s an NRA instructor just got certified to teach it. I’ll have to ask her if I can take it from her sometime.

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