Now you think your child is old enough to come to the range with you and learn how to shoot. Or is she? Here are some things to take into consideration before bringing your child to the range for the first time.
Is your child is old enough to learn and intelligently follow the Four Universal Rules of Gun Safety?
Here are the Four Universal Rules:
- All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!)
- Never point your gun at anything you do not want to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target.
- Be sure of your target (and what is behind it).
If your child is too young to recite these rules and then explain what they mean, she is probably too young to benefit from a trip to the range.
If your child is old enough to learn the rules by rote, but not yet old enough to explain what they mean, hold off on going to the range for awhile. She won’t get maximum benefit from a range trip, nor be safe on the range, until she is able to truly understand and internalize these safety rules.
Does your child have a healthy level of respect for adult authority? Will she immediately stop when you say “STOP”?
This is really important, again for safety’s sake. If your child is in the habit of ignoring you when you speak, or only obeying when she feels like it, it is very dangerous to take her to the range with you. There’s just too much that could go disastrously wrong if your young shooter decides not to listen today.
She should be able to understand and follow whatever range-specific rules that you will explain to her along the way — stuff like, “stay behind the yellow line and don’t touch anything on the bench for awhile.” If you cannot trust your child to follow these simple instructions or others like them, she does not yet belong on the firing line.
Additionally, you should be able to trust her to follow instructions from the range master if there is one.
Do you have adequate safety gear for your child? If so, is your child willing to wear it?
Never allow your child to set foot on the range without adequate hearing protection, wraparound eye protection, and a hat with a brim. She must wear this safety gear the entire time she or anyone else is on the firing line.
It can be difficult to find hearing protection that works well for small children. Few of them enjoy wearing muffs, and plugs are generally designed for adult-sized ear canals. Nevertheless, your child should be fitted with both plugs and muffs on every trip to the range for the foreseeable future. Her hearing is sharper than yours, and very vulnerable to damage. 2
There’s a similar problem with eye protection. While it’s easy enough to find huge, oversized glasses that look adorable when they slide down your child’s nose and off her face, it’s hard to find eyewear that will stay in place and do the essential job of protecting your child’s eyes. 3 We have found that the elastic-strap types of protection goggles work most reliably for small kids, but you’ll probably have to experiment a little to find what works for your child.
One hint: if you take your child with you to try on safety glasses, bring her muffs along. Some glasses may work well by themselves, but will interfere with the muffs too much to be a good purchase.
Don’t ever use safety glasses which have no sideshields, and don’t forget to put her brimmed hat in place. The sideshields and brim prevent brass from falling down behind her safety glasses — an event which is no joke. I have seen people literally blister their eyelids when this happened to them. Don’t risk damage to your child’s eyes from this.
Is she old enough to keep her fingers out of her mouth and off her face?
Some kids chew on their nails constantly even up into the pre-teen years. If yours is one of these, you’ll have to work with her pretty hard to keep her from doing it at the range.
The risk here is lead exposure. While a small amount of lead exposure is no big deal, there’s enough lead in the environment on most shooting ranges to constitute a hazard if your child handles spent cases or runs her hands along the shooting bench, and then puts her fingers to her face or mouth.
Because of their body mass, and because they are still growing and developing, children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults are. Of course when you get home, you’ll be sure to wash your own hands and face. To reduce her exposure levels, your child’s face and hands should be washed before you leave the range, and again when you get home. Have her change clothes when you get home, too — and if she has long hair, or has been grubbing on the ground picking up brass, suggest she takes a shower right away.
What are your state laws about children at the range?
Some states do not allow children under the age of twelve to handle firearms, even with a parent’s permission and supervision. Others have specific laws about handguns as opposed to long guns, or other restrictions.
Before taking your child to the range, find out the law in your state.
Is your range child-friendly?
If in doubt, give them a call before you show up at the door.
Keep in mind that outdoor ranges are generally better for new shooters than indoor ones. There’s less noise, less lead in the air, and often less crowding. If you have a choice, start your child on an outdoor range.