In a recent survey, having a firearm for protection was listed as the number one reason by US gun owners. Current state and federal laws regulate that owners must be no less than 18 years old (21 in most states for handguns). With that being said, when is it a good idea for younger shooters to become familiar with their parent/guardians firearm for those 'just in case' life events....
Criminals don't cut kids a break
June 2012, Phoenix Arizona, a 14-year old boy is home with his three younger siblings ages 8-12 when an armed 37-year old intruder burst through the locked front door of the family home in a quiet subdivision. The 14 year old rushed his siblings upstairs and fired at the intruder with one of his father's handguns as the man pointed his own gun at the teen. The scumbag went to the hospital in critical condition and the family went untouched save for therapy and the cost of a new door.
October 2012, Calera Oklahoma, an intruder tries to force his way into a home where a 12-year-old girl sits terrified. In an interview with local media the girl says, ""I see a lot of girls on TV that get their house broken into and they turn up missing and just knowing that that could have happened to me. I was scared." The reason the girl survived the incident may have been because she used the family's handgun to defend herself, sending the intruder to the hospital.
More recently in January 2013 a 15 year old boy home babysitting his younger outside of Houston defended the family homestead against not one, but two burglars. The boy's defensive firearm? His dad's AR-15.
When to start training
Every parent needs to make that decision when his or her kids are old enough to be left alone in the house. For most, it tends to be around the early teenager years if alone during the day, later teens if alone at night. A firearm is a serious tool that absolutely demands life or death respect and until your teen is responsible enough for this, any exposure to a firearm should only be in the vein of the Eddie Eagle style message which is "If you see a gun:, STOP!, Don't Touch, Leave the Area, and Tell an Adult."
Once you feel they have turned that maturity corner, begin with unloaded firearms safety training with a clear weapon on a safe range. Remember, you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. When they are comfortable with this, move on to single shot live fire, in which you load the gun for them. Then progress to drills that are more complicated, varying stances, and positions. If you are unsure yourself as how to do this, call in a professional and take a class or two with your kids.
The excellent NRA Basic Personal Protection in the home, the ideal class for this type of instruction, is generally not taught to students fewer than 21. However, most instructors will teach the NRA Basic Pistol Shooting Course to students as young as 11-- provided mom or dad accompanies them. They also have Basic Shotgun and Basic Rifle. In these daylong classes, they/you will learn the fundamentals and fire 50-100 rounds at simple round targets. These are sporting classes, not defense courses, yet they are good building blocks for beginners.
The talk about lethal force
Once your youngster has the basics down, it's the parent's decision whether to introduce them to the world of defensive shooting. Maturity is everything and if you do not feel your child has this, be sure that they are incapable of accessing your firearms until they do. If they are clueless about criminal and civil liability, this is something that has to be addressed. Once you have turned the corner on this, be sure to walk them through an encounter scenario. They need to understand the need, process, and theory of calling 911, escaping from or evading a threat, keeping doors and windows locked, etc. before you move onto the use of firearms. The gravity of lethal force cannot be imparted strongly enough and it needs to be the final option rather than the first.
What to train
Work out a plan of action for what firearm they have access to; ensure they know how it is used, where it is, what kind of scenarios they are to use it in, and so forth. Be sure they are capable of handling the firearm if needed. There is no reasonable expectation that your 95-pound 14 year old daughter can and will be able to use your S&W Model 29 even if she is so inclined. Finally be sure to teach the basics of weapon's retention to help ensure that if they ever have to reach for a gun, it stays in their hands.
(Photo by Oleg Volk)
There is no magic age that can be put down as to when the light switch is thrown and your child is old enough to be trusted with access to a gun for defense. Sadly, some should never be no matter what their age. The decision is yours. It is an awesome responsibility, but in a world that is growing increasingly unstable, sometimes you have to trust your kids with it. The life they save may be their own.