Study, Aim, Fire: Kids And Guns

While guns are involved in countless violent crimes, they also play a part in about 600 accidental deaths each year.  A long-standing thought is that kids and guns don't mix.  But Newschannel 6 found out there's some merit to the phrase "Study, aim, fire."

Behind every gun, there's a shooter.  Some people say keeping guns in the hands of trained adults -- and nowhere near kids -- is the safest way to deal with firearms.  But a recent school of thought actually counters that idea.

"The younger that you can expose children to safety with firearms is going to be beneficial," said Officer Kevin Folmar, a firearms instructor for the Wichita Falls Police Department.

He explains the concept simply: he'd rather his kids learn about guns from him than from someone else.  Folmar began educating his first child when he was around six years old.

"Taking the mystery out of it is the best way because I have always told my kids that if they ever want to touch a firearm or hold a firearm, they just need to tell me.  And so I'll make the weapon safe and I'll allow them to handle it under my proper supervision," he said.

Folmar's not alone.  Gun enthusiast Mike Hamel says his grandpa taught him about weapons when he had reached a certain age, and he's planning on doing the same for his son -- probably when he's between ten and thirteen.

"Children are naturally curious.  If it's something that a child hasn't come in contact before, or doesn't know that much about, they're gonna try to learn as much as they can," he said.

Recently the hunter's certification process in Texas has reflected the trend of training a child young.  Just a few years ago, the minimum age for a hunter's education course through Texas Parks and Wildlife was 12.  Now, kids can start the course at age nine.

"In the beginning, we were kind of skeptical about teaching that young of a youngster how to handle a firearm because of the safety factors.  But we've been real impressed.  These 9-years-olds, they really come up to the table.  They really showed us that they do understand what's goin' on and they do real well on the test," said Certified Hunters' Education Instructor Frank Jones.

Of course, safety is still key in firearm education.  Jones starts training youngsters with air rifles.  It's important to make sure they can physically handle the guns first.

"We're not really stressing the part on breaking targets in the beginning, but we're stressing the gun safety part of it," he said.

At one local shooting range, each weekly class starts by reiterating safety procedures.  One 4-H shooter-in-training says learning early has really paid off.

"I do feel safe around guns because I know what to do and I know what to check to make sure that they're not going to hurt me," said Crystal Kroes.

But there is one caveat with the idea: don't give the kids free reign on the weapon.

"Don't touch any firearm unless there's a parent available," Jones said.

"Parents, adults, guardians, whatever -- they have a responsibility to keep their weapons out of the hands of children," Folmar said.

Hamel feels every parent who owns a gun should take time to sit down with their children and explain what a gun is, and how to make it safe.

"From my personal experience, you can't really hide much from a child," he said.

Both he and Officer Folmar agree -- it could prevent a tragedy.

The parents we talked to recognized the role movies and video games play in children's curiosity with guns, but Officer Folmar says because he explained guns to his kids early on, they already had a basic understanding of them before they started seeing them on TV.  Of course, even if you have taught your young child about guns, safety recommendations stay the same at home -- keep the gun and the ammunition in separate places, and under lock and key.

For more information about hunters education courses in Texas, just use the link provided.

Spencer Blake, Newschannel 6