When I was growing up, most fathers were capable of teaching their children firearm safety because they grew up in what we referred to as “the old days,” when firearms were present in most homes and thought of as tools as well as used for hunting. Most of our fathers were also veterans of World War II and had military training in marksmanship and firearm safety.
I think I knew the 10 rules of firearm safety long before I took my first NRA firearm safety class upon receiving my first .22 rim fire rifle at 8 years of age. By the time I was 10 years old, I was hunting jack rabbits on the Arco Desert with my father and his brothers. Upon reaching the ripe old age of 12, I had a high-powered hunting rifle and was hunting deer.
Once I started hunting deer and elk with my father, uncles and cousins, the 10 commandments of firearm safety had been pretty well ingrained into me and really made sense.
Treat every gun as if it is loaded, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, be sure of your target and what is beyond it, never point a firearm at something you are not willing to destroy, and alcohol and firearms do not mix were rules we lived by when hunting, or we were told to go home. Keeping the barrel free of obstructions, unloading firearms when not in use, not climbing trees, fences or jumping ditches with a firearm, not shooting at hard flat surfaces or water, and storing firearms separately from ammunition also became no-brainers as far as we were concerned.
By the time I became a teenager, I owned a shotgun as well as a big game rifle and a .22 rim-fire rifle. In the fall, we often hunted pheasants in the grain fields below our house south of Pocatello, after school. I also used the shotgun and the .22 at times for pest control on my father’s horse ranch.
During the mid-1960s, the world started changing for my generation. We had graduated from high school, some of us were returning home after a couple of years, others had joined the military or been drafted and many of us were headed off to college or already working.
About the same time and into the 1970s, crime became more of a problem than when my generation was growing up, or else we just became more aware of the issue.
More and more of us started locking the doors and windows of our homes and I invested in a gun vault instead of a wooden gun cabinet with a glass front, to protect against someone breaking in the glass front and taking the firearms.
I was hired by Texas A&M as a member of the faculty of Health and Kinesiology in 1975 and moved my family to College Station, Texas. My first assignment as an outdoor education faculty member was to develop and teach a civilian marksmanship program at Texas A&M. I was also responsible for training and certifying other faculty members as NRA instructors so we could expand the number of sections of the coarse we offered to the students.
I eventually was certified to teach the Texas Concealed Handgun Course and my department then offered that coarse to the students also. The rules and concepts taught in the Texas Concealed Handgun Course are different in several respects than what we learned in the 10 commandments of firearm safety, particularly as it pertains to keeping a firearm loaded in the home, but unavailable to children or intruders or anyone else other than the owner of the firearm.
We basically taught laws relating to weapons and the use of deadly force, handgun proficiency, use and safety, non-violent dispute resolution, and proper handgun storage that eliminates accidental injury to a child. The course lasted 15 hours with a qualification with the handgun of one’s choice at the range. There were both written and demonstration of proficiency exams at the end of the coarse.
Regardless of the reason we keep firearms in the home, we have a responsibility to keep those firearms unavailable to unauthorized people, including curious children. Make your children come and ask you to see or handle firearms so you can supervise and teach them.
If you decide to keep a loaded firearm in the home, decide how you are going to secure that firearm so it can’t cause unintentional harm to anyone, while still being available to you. Every firearm I own is locked up in a rifle or pistol vault. The pistol vault can be opened biometrically, and my wife and I are the only ones who can open it in that manner.
Smokey Merkley was raised in Idaho and has been hunting since he was 10 years old. He can be contacted at email@example.com.