To train or not to train? That is the loaded question. In a world with extreme conservative versus liberal views and a media that spins numbers with misleading statistics, you will find some varying passionate answers to this question. When should you start teaching kids to shoot?
If you’re looking up statistics, I would urge you to proceed with caution. There is a lot of “spin.” While the numbers may be correct, the way they are presented is typically deceptive to serve propaganda purposes. For example, you will see certain numbers for “children killed by guns” per year. The information you are not getting is that, in these stats, a child is considered anyone under the age of 21. So while your mind is picturing a young child who has accidentally shot his or herself or someone else, the reality is that the majority are older teens and young adults who have intentionally committed a crime. Guns do not kill people. People with ill intent wielding guns do. I believe there is a greater need for fixing our moral compass rather than expand gun control.
There are cases, however, where a child has found a firearm and horrible accidents have occurred. This can be totally thwarted with proper education and training. If you have firearms in your home as well as children, you have a responsibility to educate and train them on gun safety. Taking it a step further, training them to shoot under your guidance is even more beneficial.
To get a better understanding in this area, I asked five firearms experts to weigh in on how and when to begin training young shooters.
Fred Mastison — President of Force Options Tactical Training Solutions
I am a firm believer in teaching kids to shoot. There are many reasons for this, but two main points are safety and self-confidence. If you have firearms in the home, it is important that kids understand them in totality. Not only that they are potentially dangerous, but if they are treated with respect, they can be enjoyable. Kids that learn to shoot safely and correctly gain a level of self-confidence that is tough to find elsewhere.
When you should start taking your kids to the shooting range differs, but I believe it is child dependent. Some kids simply mature earlier than others. I personally started my kids on shooting airsoft and BB guns when they were five. By the time they were seven, they were shooting a Crickett .22 rifle. Now, much later, they are both exceptional shots and capable of running any gun under the sun.
Generally, I would suggest you start kids on small-caliber rifles such as a .22 Crickett. The smaller the gun, the better it fits their frames. As they age a bit, you can move into a small .22 LR pistol such as the Walther P22. I would go even further and suggest you use a suppressor to help them build solid shooting skills. Enjoyable targets are equally as important. Reactive targets like cans and steel make the event more enjoyable. Take your time and mix in safety and fun. This will build lifelong shooters.
Julie Golob — Captain of Team Smith & Wesson
I highly recommend starting youth with airguns or .22-caliber rifles and pistols. That’s a good starting place for anyone, regardless of age. The point in the beginning is to learn how to shoot. Soft-shooting air or .22 LR platforms help eliminate a negative reaction to recoil so that the student can focus on the fundamentals and learn how to make a great shot.
After that, it’s important to look at the size and weight of the firearm. Stock length and grip size are critical to youth shooting success. For pistols, I started my nine-year-old with an S&W M&P22 Compact because she could get a good grip and reach the trigger. I chose a S&W M&P15-22 for a rifle because the stock, when completely collapsed, allowed her the best opportunity for proper form and to see the sights. The nice thing about both these platforms is that they are great trainers for youths and adults. For the rifle especially, quick adjustments to the stock allow it to grow with the shooter.
J.J. Reich — Vista Outdoor Communications Manager
I would suggest a Savage AccuFit rifle—something they can use their whole lives. A shooter can use it with no length-of-pull inserts as a youngster, then add them as they grow larger. Smaller faces usually need a high comb for a proper cheekweld. The AccuFit system delivers that, too, with five interchangeable cheek risers. It’s a great system for younger shooters because the gun can easily be adjusted when the shooter changes in shape and size. The gun will grow up with them. The AccuFit system is available in 10 models in a wide variety of calibers, so many options for a lighter-recoil caliber exist.
Jessica Kallam — Remington Media Relations Manager
In my experience, kids are often intimated by the muzzle blast and concerned about recoil, so I suggest starting them off with a .22 rifle and working your way up from there. My daughter’s first trip to the range was with a Remington Model 597. She had a blast. After numerous discussions about safety and a review of the firearm, I started her off with one round in the gun. Once I observed that she followed all of the safety rules, we loaded the magazine and had a ton of fun shooting balloons. I prefer Shoot-N-C targets, reactive metal targets or balloons when taking a kid out for the first time. The instant gratification adds to the fun.
Chris McNeil — Daniel Defense Consumer Services Representative
Not many activities yield more satisfaction than helping a kid enjoy their first shots at the range. It is essential that we do our best to make their first experiences safe, fun and successful. I often start kids from the bench on a 5.56mm rifle, preferably suppressed, like our DDM4V7. Having the V7 equipped with a DD Wave suppressor and its weight supported by bags or a bipod, the rig stays on the bench, helping the muzzle stay pointed in a safe direction and reducing arm fatigue while we get those first jittery shots out of the way. The suppressor reduces the flinch-inducing muzzle blast and recoil, making the experience that much more pleasant and allowing us to focus on the basics of safe marksmanship.
When the time comes to learn other shooting positions, the V7 platform is very lightweight but soft shooting with its mid-length gas system. It doesn’t hurt the experience that kids (and adults) generally think the V7 is one of the coolest guns they have ever seen.
Training our youth to learn respect for firearms and how to shoot them does not breed natural-born killers. It builds a solid foundation for a generation that will have the passion to defend our Second Amendment rights. If we also focus on mentoring children with a good moral compass, they will be less apt to have any desire for ill intent.
Toys, Tools, Guns & Rules
Picture yourself in an empty white room. It’s completely empty except for a flashing red button the size of a basketball adhered to the wall with a small sign attached over the top that says, DO NOT PUSH. Even as an adult, the curiosity is there—the voice inside that says, “I wonder what happens if I push it?” Most adults would struggle with curiosity and possibly push the button. Now imagine a very young child stumbling upon a gun.
Toys, Tools, Guns & Rules: A Children’s Book About Gun Safety is an amazing book written by Julie Golob focusing on teaching kids to shoot. Julie is a world shooting champion and veteran. Her powerful shooting skills, firearms knowledge and experience as a mother have enabled her to write a must-have book that should be a part of every home with children, with or without guns. Golob wrote her book at a level young children can understand. It explains the different types of guns, who may have these guns, and the rules surrounding them. She has done a beautiful job in engaging children with age-appropriate, thought-provoking questions to keep their attention and enable them to retain the subject matter.
What I was most impressed with, however, went beyond the book. With the book comes a link to her website for “Next Steps.” Here you will find downloads that include coloring pages and other printouts for children. But the most valuable is the adult’s guide. Julie goes in depth for each section of the book explaining the hows and whys. She gives such great detail for adult education to make sure there is a complete understanding as well as how to talk to children about each topic.
Teaching Kids to Shoot In Julie’s Words…
“As an Army veteran, firearms instructor and champion shooter, I have a wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience with firearms spanning more than 25 years. Gun safety is something I learned at a young age, but for families to that don’t hunt, shoot or own firearms, it may not be a topic they discuss with their children.
“Gun safety isn’t about politics. I wrote Toys, Tools, Guns & Rules for my family, friends and anyone who wishes to share important safety rules that lay the foundation for safe gun-handling practices. This book is a valuable tool for parents, regardless of where they stand or how they feel about guns.
“Firearm safety begins in the home. Education is truly the key when it comes to preventing injuries and deaths. Whether you own guns or not, your child can be exposed to them. Children need to know what to do should they encounter a firearm.”