I have heard of videos and courses that teach children about firearm safety and how to handle firearms, but have never watched or evaluated any. I've know that the US National Rifle Association (NRA) puts out some material. Has anyone used these with their children? What approaches are most effective in teaching safety and marksmanship to young firearms users?
Firearm safety must begin in the home. Your children will naturally emulate your behavior (especially what you do when you think they aren't looking).
For formal instruction, I do not believe that there is anything to be gained for the first time firearm user from videos and other recorded media. Base firearm skills aren't just techniques, they are habits. Developing the right habits (range behavior, safety precautions, posture, etc.) requires constant correction and refinement. Watching an instructional video may make your child less safe, providing an illusion to child and parent alike that skills have been gained when they haven't. Confidence in excess of actual competence is a dangerous thing.
When evaluating firearm instruction, consider the following:
- Parents should take a course (or a refresher course if already trained) before their child learns to shoot in order to be certain that they are modeling the best possible behavior for their children.
- In addition to training, try to invest in a club or range membership so that your child has ample opportunity to practice in a safe environment. Bonus points if your club or range has a youth marksmanship group.
- A good instructor will do one-on-one instruction with first-time shooters, and not bridge to group classes until the student has shown competence in weapon care, safety, and fundamentals (grip, posture, etc). Group classes can be useful for improving marksmanship but not for teaching weapon safety. (If you need evidence of this, look at how often our police and military members cause negligent discharges. This is due in large part to group weapons training that doesn't offer the level of reinforcement some people need.)
- A good instructor won't just teach someone to shoot -- he/she will insist on teaching safety and weapon care first.
- A good instructor teaches not only how a gun works, but how and when to use it.
- A good instructor is approachable -- students feel comfortable asking him/her questions.
- A good instructor doesn't just tell the student what to do, but why.
- A good instructor will not offer a two-day "boot camp" or similar for first-time shooters, but short, regular training sessions. This gives the instructor the chance to re-enforce good habits over a longer span of time, making them more likely to be retained.