Thursday, March 3, 2011

Safety First!

"No person, regardless of age, may procure a hunting license in this state without first producing a Certificate of Competency showing completion of a hunter safety course..."  2010-2011 North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest.

My wife was not really big on firearms.  With our first son, we had many conversations as to when he would be allowed to get a BB gun for instance.  I firmly believe curiosity and unfamiliarity are the two biggest dangers for a child and a firearm.  Once one starts actually using a firearm, the top dangers typically go to safety rules violations.  I handled firearms at a very early age, so I did not have that urge to grab one of Dad's guns and experiment or show it off.  It was kind of like 'yep, I've held that one, know how that one works too...'  I learned to respect the power that a firearm has.  For safety reasons, even the BB gun was not allowed to be aimed at a person, pet, or building.  Learn that early, even with a BB gun, and you'll learn to watch where you point the bigger weapons.

I've been told in the past that a BB gun won't hurt you, and most pellet guns cannot even kill a squirrel.  Unfortunately, North Carolina has learned the hard way this is not the case.  We have had three tragedies involving youth in the last week that I am aware of, and two of them were with either a BB or pellet gun.

In the hunter education classes we teach, the number one rule is always have the muzzle (the opening at the end of the barrel where the projectile exits) pointed in a safe direction. We say it constantly and consistently throughout the 10 hour course.  If the firearm is pointed in a safe direction, and there is an accidental firing of the weapon, there is no harm other than the scare it gives you.  There are other rules we go through as well.  Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.  Keep your finger away from the trigger until ready to shoot.  Know what is in front of and behind your target.  In the class, we have firearms for the students to handle, some of each type of firearm, so the student will at least have a basic familiarity of the firearm.  When we hand the firearm from one person to another, we do it with the action (the part that does the work that loads and fires the ammunition) open so that all can see it is unloaded.  Even with 'dummy' guns, we do this, and keep them pointed in safe directions, and explain what safe directions are.

Of course this is what we teach those that attend the hunter education classes.  It does not help much when you have a young child who may be too young to go through a course like this.  This is where my other suggestion comes in.  As soon as a child shows interest, you need to start teaching them how the firearm works, and let them know they can only handle it when a responsible adult (you) is there with them.  Practice keeping it pointed in a safe direction, with the action open, even with toy guns. The more the child handles the firearm, the less curious they are.

However, there is still another problem.  Now the neighbor's kid comes over, and has never held a firearm.  Curiosity is there.  Peer pressure sets in, and now your child has succumb to pulling out your firearm to show.  Do not ever let it get to that point.  Keep the firearm locked up, and keep the ammunition locked up in a separate location.

So, in review once more, unload your firearms but treat them as if they were loaded.  Keep them pointed in a safe direction.  Keep them stored separate from the ammunition and locked.  And based on the last week's news, treat every firearm as if it is powerful enough to kill.  Even a BB or pellet gun. 

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

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