Just recently I was asked by a friend what to do about her child wanting a toy gun for his January birthday. She was not a hunter herself, but her husband and brother were, and her concern was that the child would get too “into” guns. My advice: absolutely get him a toy gun. Want to really think I’m off my rocker? I believe one of the best presents my son ever received was a very realistic looking toy gun. Bad, right? Wrong. Here’s a post out of the archives that’ll explain why.
Countless little boys (and girls) love to play “guns” (and with my two little boys surrounded by a family of hunters, when they were very young, EVERY stick became a gun — no matter what I said. My sons would even chew their toast in the mornings into the shapes of guns.) So given we had “guns” everywhere, I decided use the opportunity to teach safety: whether they’re sticks that have been picked up or realistic reproductions of real rifles and shotguns — toys can help kids learn the skills they’ll need when the time comes for them to safely use the real thing.
This little gun is a replica of a shotgun I’d LOVE to have: an elaborately engraved side by side that is, OK, maybe a .410 or a 28 gauge (whatever I want it to be!). Here’s why I’m crazy about this little gun: its action is just like that of a real side by side — so it can be what’s called, “broken”, for loading and for safety. This has been extremely effective in teaching the kids when and why to break the gun and the ways to properly carry a broken shotgun.
Right now, we don’t let the kids play with the toy shotgun. It’s treated like the real thing: it’s kept with the grownup’s shotguns and comes out for real shoots. They feel like big guys in the field because other adults compliment their gun and gun safety. These shotguns even have toy “shells” that look like the real thing and are loaded with caps, so they learn when to load and when to be sure to be unloaded.
There are also some toy rifles out there that can be loaded — they give parents a great chance to ask whether the toy gun is loaded. And if it is, why. But even if the kids’ gun is just a crooked stick, it’s a great question. Instill the mantra: treat every gun as
if it’s loaded. As my dad always said, “every gun is a loaded gun. period.”
Kids lap up this attention because not only are they learning something, but it means to them that mom or dad is treating their toy gun like it’s the real thing, so the make believe becomes more real to them.
Two things: It’s absolutely never too early to start to learn the rules of gun safety, and the stakes are far far far too high not to. And second: don’t be one of those knuckleheads that run out and get the kid a BB gun, Airsoft, or pellet gun too early. No little kids (anyone under 7, in my book) are ready for those. They’ll have a ball with a realistic looking (or not!) shotgun or rifle. At this stage, they don’t care about (and won’t be good at) marksmanship. They just want to have fun and look cool. Too many well-meaning parents try to rush this part and get their kids BB guns that the kid can’t even manage to cock safely (oh they’ll try and easily hurt themselves or someone nearby.) Let your kids be kids. It’s fleeting — and ever so sweet. Enjoy it.
And always, the best teacher is, of course, the example of the adults: always keep the real ones locked up.