In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, I’ve had a number of conversations with my more liberal friends (all with kids the same age as mine) about guns, gun policy, and — interestingly — parenting. In short, I intentionally raise my son to not only understand how guns work but also to be quite proficient in their use. (I’m going to confine this post to talking about boys since they do show much more interest in guns and also commit the overwhelming majority of gun crimes). This decision mystifies many of my friends, and after many discussions I realize that our differences tend to be cultural at a very deep level — with the differences going to our very conceptions of manhood and what it means to raise a boy to be a man.
At core, I believe that a man has a number of non-delegable duties, among them becoming both a provider and a protector. By provider I don’t necessarily mean exclusive provider for a household, but a man should strive to provide for a family to the extent that the choice of a spouse to work is based not so much on necessity as it is personal calling, fulfillment, and lifestyle choices. Nor is the term “provider” limited to the household. A man should strive to be generous — a net contributor of his resources (including time) to his family and his community.
The key to this discussion, however, is the goal of “protector.” Of course no sane person can think they can fully protect themselves, their families, or anyone else from the dangers of this fallen world, but the question is whether a man assumes primary responsibility for the (lawful) protection of his family or he delegates that responsibility to others. That does not mean that every man must arm himself (or, given the context), join the police, or join the military — but it does mean that a man should give thoughtful consideration to those measures and reject them only after weighing them in light of his responsibilities.
Against this philosophical backdrop, a decision to teach a son how to use guns is logical if not inevitable. But the benefits of teaching your son how to use a gun go well beyond this framework: Properly done, effective teaching in firearms can achieve those rarest of moments in young, rambunctious pre-teens: You can teach them responsibility and appropriate levels of confidence while also engaging that level of energy and aggression the dwells deep within the vast majority of boys.
My twelve-year-old son is a beginner in competitive trap shooting. He takes care of his shotgun, treats it with proper respect, and has a great time on the range — but not in the stereotypical “Yeeehaw!” way that the cultural elite imagines when it thinks of a southern family and guns. He’s intensely competitive, takes great pride in his scores, and enjoys a good shoot in the same way that anyone else enjoys a great round of golf or a good day on the basketball court (his second-favorite sport).
Oh, and there’s one other very good effect: I know that if my son is ever around guns, he knows exactly what to do. In other words, he’s not dangerously curious about a forbidden item but responsibly serious about a source of potential concern.
I write this post keenly aware of how it makes me sound — like some sort of maniacal drill sergeant who hammers the fun out of life while raising some sort of traditionalist militia. Nothing could be further from the truth — raising kids to be responsible enables a joyful childhood, it does not stifle it. Further, I wrote this in the deep humility of knowing that we do not and cannot control our children’s destinies. We are not God, and any good that is in our kids comes from God alone.
I don’t have my son’s life planned out (what an act of arrogant futility that would be), but I do want him — whatever he ends up doing as a career — to be the kind of man who will provide for a family, help a friend in need, and come to the aid even of strangers in distress — and do so responsibly and even thankfully.
If he turns out to be such a man — and I hope and believe he will be — then I think our early teaching about guns will have played an important role.
This article first appeared on National Review, where it generated some pretty interesting comments. Share your thoughts below.