March 5th, 2012 12:03 AM
The Warrior Parent – Part 4: Raising an Armed Family
By Uli Gebhard, Suarez International Staff Instructor Los Angeles
Three Generations on the range
I know that this comment is going to come up in this context: “How dare you exposing innocent children to guns!” Well, let's talk about this statement for a minute – or actually seven minutes – since this is the average response time in my hometown to a 911 call. That is, if you have the opportunity to make that call.
Just a couple of weeks ago Sarah McKinley shot a man that tried to force his way into her home. She had already called 911 but the police was still several minutes out when the operator told her to “do what you have to do to protect your baby”.
Just two days earlier a 14-year old North Carolina boy used a shotgun to protect himself and his 17-year old sister from several home invaders.
These a admittedly extreme scenarios, but in both cases the use of a firearm saved the family from harm. The police officers arrived on scene to late to help. I have the following question for those who are appalled at the thought of kids being introduced to firearms: Can you reliably fight an armed assailant off with your bare hands for seven minutes? If yes please contact me – I'd like to learn what you are doing.
A firearm paired with the knowledge, skills and willingness to use it efficiently levels the playing field. Every parent should have this type of preparation to keep his or her family safe!
There are obviously two aspects to this topic – being an armed parent and introducing your children to firearms and marksmanship.
Childproofing the Armory
I had firearms long before my wife and I got married and long before our first son was born. How do you handle being armed and raising a family? Little kids and guns do not mix – as long as junior or the little princess is too young to understand the dangers of a firearm, the best approach is to keep the weapon either on your person or under lock and key. The huge gun safe with the family armory will likely take very long to access due to location or locking mechanism. Small quick-access safes are a good solution to keep your defensive handguns ready. Main differences are the lock systems:
- Mechanical Push-Button Combination locks are independent of batteries and virtually maintenance–free. The lock can be easily reset in case you mess up the entry of the combination. However it will not tell you if the lock has been tampered with.
- Electronic Push-Button Combination locks require batteries and may lock you out or mandate a delay in case the combination was entered incorrectly several times in a row. The lock provides feedback in case someone tried unsuccessfully entering combinations.
- Biometric Lock – fingerprint reading electronics in particular have been on the market for several years. I have no personal experience with them, however, the feedback on the first models was that the electronics were set to err on the side of caution and did not always unlock even if the correct finger was on the reader. Dirt, moisture, scratches or any number of things seem to have led to false non-releases. I'm not sure how well these systems work today, however, I'd be hesitant to trust my life to some potentially quirky electronics.
The quick-access safes can also be mounted or secured inside a car. This can be helpful if you want to keep a firearm with you but may have to go visit one of the many places such as a post office or other federal building that will not permit carrying a firearm on your person.
OK – so you either carry your gun, or you have it in a quick-access safe. An additional measure of safety that you may want to consider is keeping the chamber of your semi-auto empty when it's not in your holster. A three-year old can press the trigger on a Glock, as one former LAPD-officer painfully found out, but a young child does not have the strength to rack the slide.
Separating young children and guns is a good first step to being an armed parent. One question that arises here is how to introduce the kids to the families defensive hardware.
One thing that I've seen with most families is that they do not hide the fact that they have firearms from their children. The one family that did hide the existence of their guns is currently struggling to find a way of introducing this topic to their son.
Gunproofing Your Kids
Keystone Crickett (front) and Henry .22 (back) make great rifles for young shooters
Our kids have always known that we have firearms. They also knew right from the beginning that they are tools to keep us safe and that those tools only work if they are not known to anybody outside the family. I've read a lot of posts on online forums where armed parents were concerned that their kids or kids of their friends will eventually bump into their hardware and wonder what that hard “thing” on the belt is. Can you prevent things like this? Most likely not. But you can prepare for it: Most of us log a lot of defensive gear around and many items are more benign than our RMR Glocks. I've reached under my shirt once or twice to pull my Cold Steel Recon out and let the kid know that G10 grip scales will make for a hard bump. More than once my own kids had a knowing smile on their face when that happened.
I can only speak for those families that I know: all of them teach their kids from the beginning that guns are dangerous if they are not handled properly. Thus, whenever the youngster wants to take a look at the firearm it is done after going through all of the safety procedures and rules together. To me it is amazing how short-lived a kids interest a firearm can be in this context. My younger son wanted to see my AR as I came home from teaching a class. We went through the safety rules, cleared the gun, pointed it in a safe direction, he peeked through the sights without even having the hand fully on the pistol grip, mumbled “Thanks, Dad” and was gone in a flash...
How old does a boy or girl have to be to be safety conscientious around a firearm? It's not so much a question of age as of maturity. Some kids may grasp that concept as early as four, others may be seven. Regardless of their age, realize one thing: Your children look very closely at what you are doing and will pick up your habits.
If you choose to make the commitment to be armed to protect your family, you also make a commitment to setting a good example for your children every time you handle a gun. If you bend or break the rules they will consider this OK and follow your lead. On the positive side, if you handle your gun carefully and responsibly every time you pick it up, you kids will catch on to that. You may find that your seven-year-old is the only kid on a birthday party that keeps the finger off the trigger of the soaker gun while they are darting across the backyard. Kids take pride in what they learn and I can only encourage you to give them lots of positive feedback when they show awareness for the safety rules. It can be as simple as them picking up your Red ASP Training gun showing off that they know where the safe direction is and that they know to keep the finger off the trigger.
Will kids still play with toy guns? Most likely yes – but they have to be able to distinguish between the cops and robbers games with their friends and the seriousness of a real firearm. A point that has always been very important to me is the role of video-games, especially for pre-teen kids. First-role shooter games emphasize that it's OK to blow people up for fun – this is the wrong message if you want to teach your son or daughter at the same time that a firearm is a dangerous but useful tool. Consequently our kids do not get to play those games, neither at home, where we simply don't have them, or at their friends houses where we let the parents know that it's not OK for our kids to be around those games. We've made nothing but positive experiences with the way our kids handle the firearms in the household. More about that later.
Overall the key points were for our family and for the vast majority of armed families that we know, that defensive weapons were never a secret to the youngsters but that they knew not to reveal these assets to anyone outside the family. Also, all those families raised their kids with an awareness of firearm safety.
In all of these families the kids eventually became interested in shooting a firearm. That of course, opened a whole new chapter for them and their parents.
Suarez International Staff Instructor California
March 5th, 2012 12:03 AM
Raising Young Marksmen
These boys had a safe and fun day at the range.
Families in rural areas may have a property that is large enough to set targets up in the backyard and get a couple of rounds downrange without disturbing the neighbors.
However, I'm writing this article form the perspective of a parent who lives in a large urban area with the next outdoor range an hour's drive away – and that range being usually fairly crowded with their private ranges booked for months in advance. How can we introduce our kids to marksmanship in these settings?
A good option to start presents itself with Airsoft rifles and BB Guns in the comfort of our own home or garage. Coincidentally, the Boy Scouts of America have a Marksmanship program for Cub Scouts (ages 6-11) with BB Rifles.
Airsoft has a couple of advantages: The 6mm plastic pellets carry very little energy and a thick piece of cardboard will suffice as a backstop. This means that you can set your range up in the hallway if that's all the space you have available. In case of our kids, we found that a spring-powered M-4 worked really well. With the shoulder stock completely collapsed, the carbine fit their length of pull and the skinny standard AR pistol grip is small enough for the hands of a five-year old.
On the risk of sounding like a broken record: good safety procedures go a long way: We went through the safety rules every time we set up range in our garage and handled the airsoft rifle with the same diligence as we later would treat a real rifle. One of the benefits of using a rifle over a pistol is that it is a very stable and easy-to-work-with platform when shooting from a bench or table. That in turn makes for successful hits and lots of fun for junior. Cardboard strips for targets that tip over when hit provide instant gratification.
Our son was able to cock the rifle by himself at age 5 and from there on my role changed from hands-on coach to RSO and feedback provider.
Other good starter guns are BB guns such as the Daisy Red Rider or the slightly smaller Daisy Buck. They will most likely require help from an adult to cock. And, since they are shooting metal projectiles, they will need at least wood or better a metal pellet-trap as a backstop. They also have a bit more range than the airsoft. For the parents of little girls, the red rider also comes in pink.
The Garage Gallery will almost inadvertently lead to interest in “The Real Thing”. Young kids need a rifle that fits their frame and skill level. This means a short length of pull, light weight, single shot and an action mechanism that they can handle. Following is a list of rifles that fit that general description.
- Keystone Sporting Arms Crickett Bolt-Action, Peep-Style rear sight. Striker has to be manually cocked after the bolt has been closed. Trigger is on the course side.
- Chipmunk Rifle .22LR Owned by Keystone, almost identical to the Crickett
- Henry Mini-Bolt Fiber Optic Sights (Rear Notch-Type) Bolt-Action, similar function to the Crickett. Trigger is supposedly better than the Crickett.
- Savage Rascal and Savage Cub both feature peep-style rear sights and most intriguing the accu-trigger that Savage's full-size rifles are renowned for. Striker cocks upon opening the bolt. Other than Crickett-Type actions, this rifle can be unloaded without pulling the trigger.
- The Rascal will hit the market in early March – You'll probably see a follow-up about this rifle later this year.
- Thompson Center Hot Shot Break action, external hammer, peep rear sight. Everything on this rifle is scaled down for kids – including the trigger guard. Many adults will have a hard time squeezing their index finger into this tiny opening. Thompson also lists stock extensions so that the rifle can grow with the young shooter
- Mossberg Half-Pint Plinkster Bolt-Action, wood stock, Notch-Type Rear, open sights. It felt heavy and bulky to our six-year old when he handled it in the store.
- Rossi Youth Matched Pair .410ga/.22 LR or 20ga/.22LR break action with interchangeable barrels, fiber optic front and notch-type rear sight. The ability to change from rifle to shotgun is interesting, however, I have not yet found any of them in our local stores.
This list is by no means complete. The rifles listed are those that I am aware of. I ended up buying a Crickett for my oldest son – that decision was not based so much on personal preference back then, as on availability. Not every store in Southern California carries rifles for children. At $135, what did we get?
The Keystone Crickett works out well for this young marksman
We got a rifle that is perfectly suited for the small frame of a six-year old. Length of pull, weight and handling characteristics fit the bill. One thing that I personally liked was the additional step of manually cocking the striker after a round has been loaded. Just one more point to emphasize that the rifle is going “hot”.
My sons are able to handle all the manipulations. In the beginning they needed a bit extra help with cocking the striker, but eventually they also got their technique down for this step.
What I would recommend, especially for younger kids for their first range trips is letting them shoot from a fully supported position either prone or from a table. The stable platform makes the first hits easy and gives them the confidence that what they did with the airsoft or BB-Rifle will work just as well with the “real” gun.
During the first trip to the range we started out with targets a mere 5 meters away. The tin cans that we set up were thoroughly perforated at the end of the day. The distance to our targets increased continually with subsequent range trips and pretty soon 10” Diameter steel plates at 65 meters were within the realm of the possible. This is all still with open sights. I never mounted any type of optics, red dot or telescopic, on this little rifle. Since our son started out with the peep-sights of the airsoft AR, he was right at home with the same type of sights on the Crickett.
As far as targets go, anything reactive that provides instant gratification for a solid hit is good. Tin cans, sporting clays, steel targets, small spinners or my personal favorite: coffee containers filled with water and frozen overnight. On those, every hit sends a spray of ice flying. However, the more hits one scores, the more accurate the following shots have to be to get whatever ice is left at the bottom of the container.
The favorite target of the Junior Staff: coffee containers, filled with water, frozen overnight
When our sons joined us for a group shoot on the range, I made them more than once part of our safety briefing by letting them recite or explain the range rules. On that same token, especially when bringing kids to the range who have no experience with real firearms, make sure to run the briefing on a level that they will understand. Earlier this year, we had my younger son and two of their friends from school joining us on the range. We had every firearm that they would handle that day on the table and explained every single one – and had them repeat back or re-explain to us what to do, what not to do and why. These four boys had a day full of exciting new experiences and they were safe on the firing line. This was a huge relief especially since one of them does not usually sit still for any extended period of time.
A kids dedication to firearm safety will not go unnoticed. A co-worker mentioned at a social gathering that he was pleasantly surprised with the way a seven year old shot and behaved on the range. A lady in the group was appalled at the obscenity of a young boy shooting a life firearm. My co-worker let that go for the moment. A while later he picked the conversation up from a different angle, asking her “Does your son still play HALO wars?” “Why yes – that's his favorite game. He's really good at it!” came the surprised response. “So, he plays a first-role shooter game and has no idea of the damage that a real gun can do!?” Things went downhill from there.
While this lady did not get the point, I believe you do: Kids learn responsibility when they handle firearms.
Suarez International Staff Instructor California
March 5th, 2012 12:03 AM
They know their marksmanship, where do we go from here?
Once kids know and enjoy their marksmanship skills, they may want to take them a step further.
There is a good selection of magazine-fed bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles on the market. A personal favorite is a youth-sized lever-action. The magazine holds upwards of ten rounds, yet, the rifle has to manually cycled for every shot, same as the bolt-action, just a bit more progressive.
If you happen to own an AR-15 with collapsible stock, you may want to invest into a .22LR conversion kit. With it in place and the stock all the way in, your son or daughter can practice with your rifle.
This AR-15 with CMMG Conversion Kit made for a fun range day!
Many threads on online forums revolve around which handguns that can be used to teach Kids the basics.
- Several .22 Revolvers such as the Taurus 94 have a small grip and a light single-action trigger that makes accurate shots comparably easy.
- The Walther P22 has a small grip and controls that most smaller kids will be able to work– call it functionality with “cool' factor.
- The Ruger Mark II and III have a comparably small grip, but they are still fairly large for the hands of an 8-year old. Better might be the new SR-22, which seems to be similar in size to the P-22. At the writing of this article they just hit the market and were sold out at our local stores.
Regardless which route your son or daughter wants to take – repeating rifle of pistol, make sure that the firearm they use is appropriate for them and maintain their focus on safety. It's easy to get carried away when switching from a single-shot bolt-action to a ten or even thirty-round semi-auto rifle.
Uli Gebhard is Suarez International Staff instructor for California
Find his courses here
Last edited by Gsolutions; March 5th, 2012 at 08:23 AM.
Suarez International Staff Instructor California
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