By Will Dabbs, M.D.
Photos By Sara Dabbs
The culprit was one of those adorable little 3-year-old tow-headed scamps who already wore glasses. He scurried into his mom’s bedroom with a friend to jump on the bed despite her explicit directive to the contrary. While climbing aboard he spotted the drawer to her nightstand cracked open and, being a small man-child, invested a moment exploring it. The heavy stainless Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver he retrieved was loaded with 6 jacketed hollow points.
While he and his pal jumped happily on the bed the boy stroked the trigger of the gun with his thumb. The heavy bullet passed upward across his face close enough to pulverize his little spectacles and leave a tiny red crease across his forehead. Aside from a minor powder burn and ringing in his ears the kid was otherwise unhurt. When I met the little guy in the Emergency Room his mom was still too traumatized to speak coherently.
This story had a happy ending. Others I choose not to write about. How you maintain a gun for self-protection, particularly with kids around, is arguably the single most critical decision many Americans will make over the course of a lifetime. The lives hanging in the balance are the most precious in your world.
There’s nothing special about firearms. Guns are simply very dangerous tools not altogether unlike rat poison or table saws. Life is fraught with danger. How we manage those dangers defines us.
My third and final child recently left for college. My favorite teenaged gun photographer dropped my heart into a sack, tucked it lovingly into her luggage, and puttered off to Aerospace Engineering school in her little red Hyundai Veloster. You may note a precipitous decline in the quality of my photographs as a result.
As my wife and I struggle to navigate the next stage of our lives I had the epiphany we had successfully pulled it off. With God’s help, we raised three responsible citizens from within a household awash in military firearms. Here is our story.
Most everybody is fascinated with guns. The mechanical complexity, the danger and the allure of power under control resonate on a certain level universally. This is particularly true for children. The fact dinosaurs are big enough to eat their parents is one of the reasons all children love dinosaurs. Kids will be drawn to guns. Expect it.
Kids will rise to whatever level of discipline and responsibility demanded
of them. Firearms provide a superb vehicle with which to teach these attributes.
A robust human child, properly raised, blossoms into a productive American citizen,
easily transitioning safely from single-shot .22 to full-auto M1 Thompson.
When the kids were young, every single gun was locked away all the time. Ammo was secured separately. A single handgun lived in a locked box on a high shelf in the bedroom closet. The loaded magazine was removed and in the same box. I practiced to the point where I could retrieve the gun in the dark and make it ready in a matter of seconds. Modern touch-activated pistol boxes can be had online for around $100. There is just no excuse for leaving a gun unsecured around kids in the Information Age. The extra 30 seconds it may take you to retrieve your gun in a crisis represent the price you pay for being a parent.
The kids and I played with live weapons all the time—on my terms. The pursuit was mercilessly supervised and the ammo was always secured elsewhere. The boys could both strip and reassemble a Kalashnikov blindfolded by their 8th birthday as a result.
Kids will rise to whatever level of performance is demanded of them. Allow them to be disrespectful and live in an iPad and they will be disrespectful and live in an iPad. Demand they do what they are told when they are told, and they will do just that. They will also love you for it later. Parenting is hard work and it has largely become a lost art in America.
Your kids will likely have friends and those friends will likely come over to play. Under those circumstances the guns cannot be accessible period. Trust no one but yourself.
When a young person unaccustomed to firearms touches one for the first time they typically do not show proper restraint. They can’t. Likely, nobody ever taught them.
Simply explain the cardinal rules of gun handling will be ruthlessly enforced. They shouldn’t get their feelings hurt if you have to grab a gun with a wandering muzzle in the midst of an otherwise pleasant conversation. My boys’ range officer skills are as good as mine. I raised them this way.
My boys worked summers to make enough money to buy their own handguns. One opted
for a Walther P99 (above). The other chose a rakish Steyr (below). We also built ARs
together. One son chose a video game motif, the other a more sterile Star-Trek sort
of flavor (top) without the weathering.
Journey’s Next Leg
Beginning to teach CCW matters, the kids started with Blackhawk pepper spray. It is cheap in the sporting goods department at WalMart, and you can’t kill anybody with it. It is worth the expense of buying enough so your kids can practice with one against a tree or similar target. We were all mightily underwhelmed at the weakness of the stream. However, get downwind and the stuff works as advertised.
The next step was a Kimber Pepperblaster. Unlike pressurized pepper sprays, the Pepperblaster looks and feels like a gun. It uses a pyrotechnic charge and a plunger system to launch its substantial irritant payload with great vigor. One version looks like a little plastic pistol. The other looks vaguely like a cell phone. They both work the same way.
The Pepperblaster should be handled like a firearm. Aim using the sights and squeeze the trigger. The gun carries two shots and cycles between them semi-automatically. The Pepperblaster runs about $40 so you might not be willing to buy one just for practice and practice ones are available. Carrying a Pepperblaster teaches responsible gun handling and gets an older adolescent ready for the real thing when the time is right.
When each of the boys hit their late teens we built an AR rifle together. I couldn’t talk my gun photographer into building one, however, any ape can manage the project since uppers come pre-assembled. As an added bonus, the boys customized their guns. We used bake-on ceramic engine block paint from the local auto parts store. They took inspiration from their video games.
This paint is available in a variety of colors and the resulting finish is as durable as most dedicated DIY gun finishes at a fraction of the cost. The parts do need to be baked to set the finish. Use your wife’s oven without her knowledge and you will have eaten your last chocolate chip cookie that doesn’t taste vaguely like a fertilizer factory. I found a discarded kitchen oven and wired it into my workshop to bake gun parts. It works like a champ and I still get my cookies.
The resulting rifles, though garish, are thoroughly individualized and remain totally effective. These project guns are not expensive and there is no better way to kill a Saturday afternoon with your kid than building up an AR-15 from parts. Once the gun is done take them to the range until they can run it well.
Each of my boys worked during the summers to earn the money to buy their own pistols. My oldest chose a Steyr M9 for its rakish styling and sci-fi ambience. My second son opted for a Walther P99 because it was what James Bond carried in Casino Royale.
Our 21st birthday present is always a concealed carry license and a pocket heater to go along with it. By this point the boys were responsible, productive, gun-owning Americans just like their parents and were fully prepared for the awesome responsibility that goes along with being armed. As they both live in urban areas, I derive peace of mind from this fact. When the time is right their sister will follow suit.
Be ruthless. If your kids lack the maturity and discipline to manage their own firearms then do not arm them. If there is any possibility there might be drugs or alcohol then there can be no guns. Second only to parenting, gun ownership is the most stark exhibition of personal responsibility to be found in a free society.
In these days of Twitter and Dancing With the Stars, most young Americans lack the sense to vote their way out of a paper sack. The Good Book says, “Train up a child up in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Those words were true when Solomon first penned them three millennia ago, and they remain true today.
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