The Cornered Cat

Does your child know what to do if she 1   comes across a gun?

Keeping guns locked up is essential when you have kids, but I think most of us realize that as our kids grow, locking up the guns simply isn’t enough. Even if no one in your house ever goofs and accidentally leaves a gun out, the fact is that the bigger the kid gets, the more places she’ll go and the better the chance that she’ll be visiting at the home of someone who doesn’t have your commitment to keeping guns locked up and out of sight.

Me, I’m a suspenders-and-a-belt type person. I believe any plan that relies entirely upon human beings (of any age!) to be perfect is a flawed plan. So around here we lock up the guns and we teach the kids what to do if they find one. That way, we aren’t relying on the kids to be perfect and never disobey.  We also aren’t relying on the adults to be perfect and never goof by leaving the safe door open.

Here’s how we gun proofed our kids. We began when they were barely old enough to talk and were able to more-or-less chant back to us stuff that we said to them.

Teaching the Basic Rules

The simplest way to start your child’s firearm safety education is to begin by teaching her the Eddie Eagle rules. These are simple, simple safety rules that even a very young child can understand.


The Eddie Eagle Rules

  • Stop
  • Don’t touch
  • Leave the area
  • Tell an adult

Being a kid, she’ll soon be able to chant those rules along with you, and then back to you without prompting, in no time flat. Don’t stop there, though. That’s just the beginning. The next step is to talk about what the rules mean.

For instance, who’s a grownup? If your child has a teenaged babysitter, she needs to know that the teenager is a grownup that she can tell.

What if she doesn’t know for sure whether it’s a real gun or a toy? Explain that if she’s even a little bit not sure, to treat it like it’s a real gun — stop, don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult.

Once she’s got a basic idea of what the rules are and what they mean, then you can ask your child this very important question:

“Do you know what to do if you really, really, really want to touch the gun?”

She may or may not be able to tell you, so you tell her the rules again. Tell her that no matter what she must not touch the gun. But the next step is the critical one. You’re going to disarm her curiosity so that, if she ever does come across a gun when you aren’t around, she won’t be so curious and desperate to touch it that all of your good teaching goes right out the window.

So you need to teach her one more, very important, rule:

“If I really, really, really want to touch the gun, I will leave the area and ask an adult if I can!”

In order to get her to the point where there’s a better-than-even chance she’ll obey those rules when you aren’t looking, you want to demystify guns. You do not need to go to the range for this. All you need is an unloaded gun, a completely safe backstop, a time with no interruptions, and a super-calm demeanor.

You are going to teach your child that any time she wants to hold a gun, you will drop whatever else you are doing and stand over her while she holds the unloaded gun pointed in a safe direction. You are doing this so that her curiosity doesn’t kill her sometime when you are not around, and you are doing it so that “leave the room and tell an adult” will never mean the end of fun to her. You are doing that so that “tell an adult” is to her a promise that the adult will satisfy her curiosity and let other good things happen too.



If your child ever does come and tell you about a firearm that she could have touched and didn’t, give her a candy bar or take her to the playground or do whatever it is that you would do to show her that you are really, really pleased with her. Do not react with panic (except perhaps in private when your child is elsewhere).  Instead, react with pride and let her see how pleased and proud you are because she did the right thing.

Make telling an adult a pleasant experience!

Disarming Her Curiosity

Once the rules have been mastered, the next step is to disarm her curiosity. But how to do that? Here are the basic steps.

Find a safe backstop.

This could be a brick fireplace, the long end of a crowded bookshelf, an old piece of body armor, or a stack of phone books at least 2 feet thick as it faces you. You want something that would stop a bullet if one were fired, and you want to explain to your child exactly what you are doing and why when you set it up. You can even tell her the Four Rules at this point, but don’t belabor them yet — just make sure she knows that there are important safety rules that even adults must follow.

Make sure there will be no interruptions.

Lock the front door, turn the ringer off the phone, and choose a time when there are no other people around. This is going to take your full concentration.

Empty your firearm.

Ideally, use a handgun because handguns are the most tempting and most likely to be picked up by a child when spotted. Double and then triple-check to be sure it is empty, and put the ammunition in another room behind a locked door.

Be a good example. 

Let your child see you check again to be sure the gun is empty. Let her watch you make sure it is empty by locking the gun’s action open, looking at the chamber and magazine well to be sure they are both empty. Then feel the empty mag well and the hole in the chamber to be sure your eyes didn’t fool you. If it’s a revolver, run your finger along the holes in the open cylinder and count them aloud. Tell your child what you are doing and why.

She will not absorb all this or even most of it. Tell her anyway.

More important, let her see that you never ever ever ever ever point the gun anywhere except the safe direction — and that you checked three times to make sure it was unloaded — and that you had her check to see it was unloaded.  Be a good example.

Explain the ground rules to your child.

The ground rules:  the gun must stay pointed at the safe backstop at all times.  Tell her that the gun has to stay pointed in that direction, and only that direction.  Make sure she understands that she must not turn the gun around, nor point it anywhere except the safe direction.

You will stay right there with him to help her remember how to be safe.

Now comes the scary part: Hand her the gun.


Hover and be ready to grab if the gun waves anywhere else.  Stay right with her.  Do not allow your attention to wander even for a split second.

Don’t let her turn the gun around. Keep your hands right there and ready to control if you need to.

Let her poke buttons and try to pull the trigger if she wants.  Let her peer into the open chamber.

If she wants to do something that could result in a pinched finger or worse, offer to hold the gun safely so that she can do whatever it is (poke a finger into the chamber, perhaps).

Answer her questions.

She might have a lot of silly questions, or none at all.  She might ask you the same thing in four different ways.  Do your best to explain whatever she wants to know.  If she asks you something you cannot explain, tell her you will look it up together later (and do so).

Wait until she is bored.

After about two minutes, she’ll be bored because face it, there’s nothing exciting about safely holding an unloaded weapon pointing at nothing much, even if you’ve never done it before. Wait until she is bored, and says so; you want her to end this exploration.

Don’t cut the time short yourself, because “bored” is exactly the feeling you want her to get from this.

Put the gun away safely and lock it up.

When she is done exploring the gun, take it back from her and let her see you check again that it is empty as you put it away. Lock it up.

Explain to your child that she may handle your gun anytime she wants to as long as she asks, but that she must not ever, ever, ever handle a gun without asking.

Ask her what she should do if she ever sees a gun that is out.  Chant the rules with her again:

  • Stop.
  • Don’t touch!
  • Leave the area.
  • Tell an adult.

Make a promise.

Now it is time to make an important promise, the one that makes all the rest of this work. Here is the promise: “I will let you handle my gun any time you ask, as long as you ask. So do you know what to do if you find a gun you really, really, really want to touch? Don’t touch it! Come tell me, and I will help you touch it safely. Any time you want to handle my gun, you tell me and I will help you.”

Then chant the rules again, all five of them:

  • Stop.
  • Don’t touch!
  • Leave the area.
  • Tell an adult.
  • And if you really, really, really want to touch … leave the area and ASK an adult.

Follow through.

If your child asks to see your gun two hours later, drop everything and do all of the above again.

Expect her to ask every couple hours for a couple days, every day or so for a week, and every once in awhile for a long time. As much as possible, as soon as she asks, immediately drop whatever else you are doing and show her your gun again. By helping her to explore safely, you are reinforcing the idea that picking up a gun is not exciting, mysterious, attractive, and forbidden — it is only mundane and a bit boring and there are safety rules that have to be followed at all times.


  1. I use feminine pronouns for the child throughout this article, but don’t draw any conclusions from that: children come in two sexes, and both boys and girls should be taught basic firearms safety.