Raising Sons with Guns

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.

  • Kellie “Red”

    Excellent David!

  • http://greatday.com Ralph

    Great article. You certainly don’t sound like a “maniacal drill sergeant” but like a sincerely loving parent who appreciates the enormous lifetime value that a well-instilled sense of responsibility provides. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, much has been said about the role of violent video games. Today’s video games are extremely realistic on many levels, with many even featuring tactile feedback. But nothing can adequately convey the deadly power of a firearm except for the experience of actually firing it. The fact is, people who regularly shoot guns at targets have a visceral understanding of that power and of the tragic damage it can do. In a video game, you can “kill” hundreds of people and then magically bring them back to life by pressing the reset button. That is simply not a realistic or responsible scenario for young people to be experiencing over and over and over again. Far better for young boys (and girls!) to have repeated experience with real firearms in a disciplined environment so they can make realistic and responsible choices when it comes to their use.

  • EricMichaelSay

    I appreciate you offering your parental philosophy as a backdrop.

  • Sus

    It bothers me that there is no discussion of how the guns in the home are secured. I believe you have the right to own guns. However, I don’t think people have the right to have these guns unsecured. Many gun tragedies would not have happened if the gun owner had their guns locked in a gun safe with the combination only in their head.

    I believe every discussion about guns for personal protection should be coupled with securing the weapons so they stay out of the hands of kids and adults that shouldn’t have them.

    Ralph – I’m not sure about the video games. The reason I’m questioning is that the games are played all over the world if they have computers. These mass shootings don’t seem to happen nearly as often in other countries as they do here. I do not allow my kids to play them as it definitely won’t hurt them not to play but it could hurt if they do.

  • rumitoid

    “Protecter” is against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or worldly attacks? What is this life? A brief mist. A temprary lodging. When we take up arms to defend against a joyous eternity, what are we saying? Yes, life is precious, the living of it for the glory of God, but what is death? You would rather kill a person to defend this episode of breathing than enter heaven? The worldliness of this type thinking is, or should be, so anathema to a Christian, for it is enmity against God. We live in a spiritual realm. We do not use the weapons of this world. No matter how horrific it may sound to let your family be tortured and killed, how many early martyrs went to their death singing with their family not far behind?

    Your point holds no water. It is absolutely ridiculous and at odds with God.

    • Bryan

      But Our Lord commanded His disciples to buy weapons. Your comment makes no sense.

  • rumitoid

    There is no protection against the world good enough to provide absolute safety for you and your family, no matter how well you train your sons to kill if need be. This training is not protecting your family; it is opening it to enmity with God. To defend this life is not unlike just breathing in. Silly. Help to bring your family into being fully hidden in Christ and they will be lovingly disarmed.

  • Monimonika

    Echoing Sus’s concern, I want to ask Ralph if he and his son keep their guns at their home. If so (as is most likely), what is the purpose of having them at home? If the guns are only really supposed to be used at the range (or at another range for a tournament), why not keep the guns stored there? Of course, that question is unfair to Ralph since I doubt the gun ranges he and his son frequent have services in place to store other people’s guns on their premises. But if the ranges did have such services, would Ralph and his son keep and use their guns only on the ranges and out of their house? Or is there some other use for the guns that necessitates them being at their home?

  • J. Bob

    Excellent article. One has to wonder if those who are so against guns, have ever held one, and realize the responsibility that comes with it.

    Growing up, my folks would visit many relatives on farms. Most of the time guns were stored in the pantry off the kitchen, in plain site. Ammunition on the shelf above. At an early age, the kids, including girls, learned how to respect & use them.

  • VWorth

    We go to great extent to train our children how to responsibly drive an automobile; in fact it is the law of the land here in California that parents participate in behind the wheel training with their teen-age driver. I do not depend on them watching video race games or movies with high speed chase sequences to verse our kids in the proper way to handle an automobile. Teen age drivers kill more people annually than any teenager ever has with a firearm a hundred or thousand times over! Yet, millions of parents allow assault style video games and gun violence in movies be their child’s sole exposure to the use and handling of guns and ammunition. Life in a fantasy world! Our guns live in our home and their power and potential for danger are as relevant in our children’s upbringing as our discussions about drinking or texting while driving or any other “high risk” behavior that might be available to their “free will” as they grow into adulthood. I do not trust a “head hunter” to sign my child up for his first credit card in the free speech plaza on his college campus; we hand our kids a co-signed credit card when they turn 16 and need gas for the car; and we spend the remainder of their high school and college years teaching them the proper use of credit. Why in the world would I entrust the discussion over the use, care and custody of a firearm to someone on a video game or movie screen? Yes, I have an enormous responsibility to be a good steward of those firearms, as I also do of the power tools in the garage, the lawnmower in the shed and the chainsaw at Grandma’s cabin. All have the potential to be “deadly” weapons in uninformed and untrained hands. Sure it would be easier to write off the fascination that “boys have with toys” and let society at large dictate the “norm” in our entertainment and social media driven world; but our best moments as parents are often when we are tackling the hardest topics in life. My children have an immense sense of the responsibility borne as a gun owner, just like every other responsibility they will bear in life. As they mature, they understand that parenting is a serious, lifelong undertaking. I have not yet abdicated my job as parent-mentor to the government, nor will I. I can’t speak for parents who think that government “does it best” in all things, I can only speak for, and be responsible for “me and my house”…..

  • Deena

    My father is in his 80′s. When he was a young boy in rural Nebraska, he carried a .22 rifle TO SCHOOL with him every day, through high school. If he saw a rabbit on the way home, he shot it for dinner. Once the teacher of his one room elementary school asked him to shoot a skunk which had taken up residence under the school – and his father tanned his hide for shooting it in such a manner that it required an unscheduled school break to let the small building air out. :P It was a normal and expected part of life back then. He also served a stint in the Navy, and hunted for many years. My siblings and I grew up around his unsecured guns, and there were no issues. (Not that I mind having a gun safe ourselves.)

    Guns are not the problem. Ignorance, irresponsibility, and irrational fear are. Education and moral training are the cure. I applaud David for stepping up to those responsibilities.