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When my son was 4 years old, we decided it was time to introduce him to gun safety. He couldn't quite tie his shoes yet, but we knew we had guns in the house, and we knew we needed to instill good habits early, because it was literally a matter of life and death. His father was a police officer, and I was active in gun rights, and made it a point to be armed as much as possible. I still do. It's a matter of life and death.
We started with simple rules:
1) Ensure mom or dad are around if you want to touch a firearm, and get permission.
2) Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot
3) Never, ever point your gun at anything you do not intend to kill
We made him repeat those rules. We showed him our firearms. He was allowed to touch them with supervision. Before touching any firearm, he recited safety rules. He knew them cold before he was allowed to handle firearms.
I can't remember how old he was, exactly, when he shot his first firearm - I think he was probably 8 years old - but I know he was around 10 when he shot his first machine gun. I remember when he was about 6 years old, I sent him to my bedroom to get some paperwork that was on his father's night stand. He called down to me and said, "Mommy! Daddy's pistol is sitting on top of the paperwork. Do I have your permission to move it?" That's when I knew we taught him well. Today, at 16, my son loves to shoot. He's responsible, focused and capable. He understands firearms safety. He never picks up a pistol without clearing it, never points it in an unsafe direction and keeps his finger off the trigger unless we're at the range shooting. Today, I have every confidence in the world that he will continue to enjoy shooting sports and that he will do so safely.
My son was lucky. He was legally allowed to handle firearms in Virginia. We took him to the range. He shot a variety of firearms - rifles, pistols, machine guns and shot guns. He has had his own eye and hearing protection since he was in elementary school, and he received his first Mossberg Plinkster when he was approximately 9.
Children in Iowa aren't so lucky.
A recent press report tells the tale of little Natalie Gibson, who was asked to leave a Polk City shooting range last week, because legally - at 8 years old - she was not old enough to practice with the pistol she had been shooting for the past three years.
The range's gunsmith told them a state law "no one knew about" has surfaced: Anyone 20 or younger must be under the direct supervision of a parent or instructor to practice with a pistol or revolver. Youths younger than 14 can't use a handgun at all, even with supervision, Iowa Code states.
Why did the law surface?
Because a state legislator introduced a bill that would lower the legal age from 14 to 12. State representative Joe Riding, who says he taught his own daughter how to shoot when she was 9, claims he sees no reason parents should be prevented from involving their children in an activity that hones their focus and develops their sense of personal responsibility. And yet, his proposed legislation, instead of repealing the age restriction altogether, only suggested the limit be reduced by 2 years, and by doing so, brought attention to an arcane law everyone either ignored, or knew nothing about in the first place.
Consequently, more and more ranges have begun turning children away from the sport they love in an effort to enforce existing law, bringing Natalie Gibson to tears, because she thought she had done something wrong, according to her dad.
Why Riding and his fellow Democrats pushed a bill that only lowered the legal restriction, instead of eliminating it altogether, is anyone's guess. It certainly seems as if they were trying to woo some gun owners during an election year, while ensuring that their anti-gun base remained loyal.
Meanwhile, the New York Times, in its usual froth-flecked, hoplophobic zeal, insists gun rights advocates are to blame for the failure of the bill, and Riding, whose legislation would have kept his own daughter from legally enjoying using a handgun at the range, claims the bill would have sailed through if Iowa Gun Owners hadn't interfered and tried to force an amendment to remove the restriction altogether.
Gun grabbers, in the meantime, are gloating, because as one quivering coward of a psychiatric nurse put it, "Teaching kids handgun shooting implies there might be an appropriate time for them to use the gun in a situation they perceive as dangerous, with or without supervision."
Really? You mean there isn't an appropriate time for a child to use a handgun in self defense?
So this 14 year-old boy should have allowed home invaders to break in and victimize him and his siblings? And this one should have allowed as many as three intruders into his home? And this boy should have allowed two suspects to harm his mom and his sister?
Teaching children about real life and giving them the skills and the tools necessary to defend themselves, if need be, are signs of good, responsible parenting.
Taking away the parental right to decide when the child is ready and able to learn a valuable skill is a sign of an authoritarian swine.
Nicki Kenyon has been an avid gun rights advocate since she returned to the United States from an overseas Army tour in Germany. She began writing about Second Amendment issues in 2001 when KeepAndBearArms.com published her first essay, "The Moment.". She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts degree in National Security Studies from American Military University. Her area of expertise in those fields is European and Eurasian affairs. When not writing about gun rights or hanging out with her husband and son, she practices dry-firing her M1911 at the zombies of "The Walking Dead."