Back in the dark ages (when I was a kid), it was a no-brainer to get your kid a gun for significant occasions. We lived in a rural area, EVERYONE had guns (across the back window in their pickup truck, behind the front door, on the back porch, next to the bed, etc), and it was basically a right of passage that people didn't miss out on. Around five years of age, a kid would get a BB gun for Christmas. A few year and much practice with gun handling later, a .22 rifle would follow. As kids got older and more into the sport, their Christmas wish list got a bit more extravagant (30.06, 9mm handgun, and then the stuff that made the adults laugh...a Desert Eagle, an AR...basically stuff that cost more than a few mortgage payments). By the time you were an adult, you may have amassed a pretty good assortment of firearms--many that you used for practice, others that you used for hunting, some that you even used for competition if you were so predisposed.
Which brings us to the present day where giving a gun to a kid is closely correlated in most people's minds with death/prisons/gangs/etc. This is an unfortunate mindset because I know a lot of kids who are expert hunters, can do some nifty things with gun-smithing and reloading, and a few who have even earned college scholarships with their firearms skills.
Here are my "guidelines" of a sort for buying firearms for kids:
- If the firearm is not for MY kid (nieces and nephews for some reason usually ask me for firearms for birthdays/Christmas/graduation etc) I will only give it if it is explicitly OKed by their parents, I KNOW that their parents are very safety conscious/very experienced with firearms, and the kid is knowledgeable with firearms AND an overall responsible kid (there are a couple of kids in the family tree I wouldn't trust with a water gun).
- The firearm has to be age appropriate and appropriate to the recipient's handling skills. There is a progression for owning firearms and it begins with the basics--a bb gun, a 22 rifle, a .410 shotgun--before they move on to the big stuff.
- The recipient needs to have a safe place to store the firearm (a locked gun cabinet that they can't access without a parent's permission in most cases) and a safe place to use it (with a parent at the range or while hunting).
- I need to be relatively certain that the recipient will practice with their firearm regularly (there is no sense in having a gun you never practice with and don't know how to use).
- The recipient needs to actually SHOW me they have learned some skill with their firearm (knowing how to handle it safely, how to take it apart clean it and put it back together, for grandkids who live across the country I get the occasional target in the mail with impressive cluster shots on it ).
- The firearm can't go to someone who lives in a house where there is someone with: a felony record, a history of mental health issues, a history of domestic violence issues, a history of very poor judgement, etc. That's just asking for trouble even if the kid is a model citizen.
- The recipient has to go through a firearms safety course (yes I or one of my sons may impart a great deal of wisdom when it comes to firearms use and safety to the grandkids but kids are way more prone to listen to someone "new" than to someone they hear harping on gun safety ad infinitum). Every bit of knowledge they can get is good.
- Besides regular practice, I encourage the recipient to participate in youth shooting leagues, volunteer at the gun range, go hunting with a responsible adult, and otherwise make owning a firearm part of a lifestyle not just something to have to show off to their friends.
Fortunately (knocking on wood) our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews have been responsible gun owners. Many grew up to be good hunters, a few put their skills to work with the military, and others decided they weren't that into firearms which is OK too. Safety can not be stressed too much when it comes to kids and firearms. Finally, if you do decided to get your child a firearm for Christmas, don't forget to include eye and ear protection.