Giving a gun as a gift: How young is too young?

When I first heard of the tragic accidental shooting death of a 2-year old girl by her 5-year old brother, at first I thought it was because some adult left their gun out and was not supervising the children properly.

Not too many things surprise me anymore, but this time I was surprised when I found out that poor supervision was only part of the issue and that the 5-year-old was shooting a rifle that was given to him as a present (at age 4). Not only that, but it is reportedly not an uncommon practice in the area of Kentucky where this death occurred for guns to be given as presents to children.

Real guns are actually legally marketed for children in the U.S., such as those made by Keystone Sporting Arms of Pennsylvania. This company sells a rifle called Crickett, which is marketed as “My First Rifle” complete with an associated picture of a giant Crickett that looks like a smiling Jiminy Cricket with a gun.  This is the exact gun that the 5-year old child used when shooting his sister.  There is another such youth gun called the Chipmunk, which again plays off of kid-friendly carton themes such as Alvin and the Chipmunks.  The company posts no suggested age ranges for the use of their guns by children but there are age ranges posted for Legos, puzzles, and an untold series of toys. But a gun is an exception?

Matters get even worse in my opinion because while it is illegal for a child to purchase a firearm in the U.S., it is not illegal for an adult to give a child a rifle as a present.  Apparently, this high level of permissiveness is culturally sanctioned based on the logic that children are expected to be taught how to hunt and use a gun from an early age. In other words, it’s American tradition. But even if there was an argument to be made for gun use in youth, under what logic would  that process begin at age 4 or 5? Children at that age are not even recommended to use a volcano making kit. But giving them a gun is ok?

At the 4 to 5 age range, logical thought is not well-developed and many children this age have difficulty distinguishing between make believe and reality. Most do not yet understand the concept of death. As such, children should be playing with blocks, stuffed animals, dolls, and 25-piece puzzles at this age, not .22 caliber guns.

The bottom line is that selling real guns specifically for use by children should be illegal. This is a significant child health issue and will require legislation to make it a reality.  The only way it will happen though is by contacting your legislators and state governor. While people can say that more children die playing sports than from a child using a gun, the only purpose of a gun is to cause damage or death, which is not the case for any sport.

Dominic A. Carone is a neuropsychologist who blogs at MedFriendly.com.

email

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Mike

    There were 458 school-aged children shot in the city of Chicago last year.

    If your true concern is guns & child safety, why not direct your readers to vigorously lobby their leaders to outlaw guns THERE?

    • OldeStyleLiberal

      Guns ARE outlawed in Chicago.

      • Chris

        I think that might have been his point.

      • JannyPi

        They are not outlawed in the counties/states around Chicago though. Straw purchasers are “helping” KIDS get guns.

        • P. Littleton

          I suggest we work on enforcing the laws we already have, then, rather than racing out and demanding more laws. Guns are illegal in Chicago, straw purchases are illegal, illegally purchasing guns is illegal, illegally carrying guns on the street is illegal, and illegally shooting children is illegal.

          Your problem is not that you don’t have enough anti-gun laws. It’s that for whatever reason you’re incapable of or uninterested in enforcing the ones you already have.

          • JannyPi

            Uh, no. My problem is that KIDS are getting hold of guns. If purchasers had to undergo background checks it would slow the stream of illegal weapons into the hands of the thugs and crazies.

          • JannyPi

            Uh oh, must have been the wrong answer! The gun dealers have no accountability if they can sell to straw-purchasers, right? How do we ensure that within the current laws? Shut them down?

          • P. Littleton

            “If purchasers had to undergo background checks…”

            They do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t need straw purchasers. You really have no idea what you’re talking about here.

      • ninguem

        And yet somehow the city has plenty of them.

        It IS possible to legally own a gun in Chicago, but the hoops to jump through are daunting.

        Which really means, like most everything else in Chicago, You CAN legally own a gun if you are politically connected.

  • mhammo

    Wrong! It’s a parental issue not a federal or state government issue.

  • OldeStyleLiberal

    I got my first rifle when I was ten.

  • NormRx

    The younger the better. As long as the child can hold, aim and take instructions. This hold true in any sport, whether it is baseball, basketball, swimming etc. I am a hunter safety instructor and I purchased four Henry youth model .22 rifles. I loan these to any responsible person that wants to teach their child how to shoot.

    As for your ridiculous comment, “The only purpose of a gun is to cause damage or death, which is not the case for any sport.” The vast majority of people that own firearms do not hunt or use their gun for any violent purpose, they engage in competition shooting, either in groups or with their buddies.

    Now for a little NRA history: The NRA was started in 1871 to teach young people how to shoot. During the civil war the Southern farm boys could out shoot the Northern shop keepers and city dwellers. The NRA was not a political organization until the left became anti-gun, primarily after the 1968 gun control act.

    Since 1993 gun deaths have decreased by 49% while gun ownership and the overall gun supply has increased dramatically. As John Lott says “More guns equal less crime.”

    • JannyPi

      The NRA had an opportunity to be the voice of reason, and even was for universal background checks back in the day. It’s a shame that they no longer speak for the responsible gun owners.
      Now they (the NRA) are supplying talking points to their base, and working them into a lather about 2nd amendment rights, etc. We’ll hear all about how many deaths were caused by physician malpractice, and they will nit-pick you to death on magazine sizes and bullets, whine about Chicago (and other urban areas) and how guns are much safer then we ever imagined.
      They sell more guns that way.

      • NormRx

        Janny, When someone uses the terms reasonable or responsible regarding more gun regulations, they mean neither. I am a responsible gun owner and the NRA speaks for me, they also speak for the other five million members (over 400,000 added within the last few months.)

        • JannyPi

          NormRx, that’s not true. Reasonable people don’t threaten others, and that’ hasn’t been the norm (no pun there) lately. You think brightly colored guns should be marketed to kids? What about background checks for any gun?

          • NormRx

            JannyPi, There you go again. So, if someone doesn’t agree with you they are not “reasonable.” Guns cannot be marketed to kids, their parents are usually the ones to buy them a gun. As far as color goes, I think the whole concept is stupid, especially adult women buying a pink gun. But, then again I think most marketing is dumb, especially the ones depicting men as stupid and women as brilliant. The only time men are shown in a favorable light is when companies are trying to get the mans money on holidays like valentines or mothers day. But, that is a subject for another time.

          • JannyPi

            Norm,
            I don’t mean you have to agree with me to be reasonable. Anyone who can support their opinion in a non-threatening way would be considered reasonable to me.

          • JannyPi

            Other then being stupid (multi-hued guns), do you think they should be manufactured to appeal to little kids?

      • P. Littleton

        I am a wife, a mom, a law-abiding educated professional, a shooter, a Second Amendment supporter, and a longtime NRA member. The NRA is not “they”, some all-powerful shadowy group which brainwashes hapless dumb citizens into becoming mindless “gun nuts”. *I* am the NRA.

        • JannyPi

          Good for you! Do you think little kids should have brightly colored guns marketed to them?

          • P. Littleton

            I would not buy novelty guns for my children both because I don’t want my children to get the impression that guns are toys, and because the cutesy pink guns marketed to girls reinforce gender stereotypes that my husband and I have no interest in supporting.

            Additionally, we do not buy our children any of those popular heavily-advertized sugar-laden breakfast cereals, we don’t buy soft drinks, and we do not frequent fast-food joints which market special fat- and salt-laden children’s meals with junky toys such as “McHappy Meals” and their ilk. But neither do we think it’s the government’s role to ban such things.

            We as parents are the boss of our children. Not marketers, not the government. That’s as it should be.

          • JannyPi

            Funny, I keep getting voted down, and you keep getting voted up, AND we both don’t think guns should be made “cute”
            to appeal to children. They are not toys, I agree.

          • Mengles

            The reason you keep getting voted down is bc you believe that the government intervention is the solution. Ninguem was most likely agreeing with the points, “But neither do we think it’s the government’s role to ban such things.” and “We as parents are the boss of our children. Not marketers, not the government. That’s as it should be.”

          • JannyPi

            I see your point–we can’t ban stupid parents who don’t secure their guns and allow their kids access to them. Do you think parents that are negligent in that way should be prosecuted?

          • P. Littleton

            You think the government should ban everything you don’t like; I don’t. There’s the difference.

          • ninguem

            ^^^ What P. Littleton said ^^^

          • Mengles

            Your right to be offended does not supercede the 2nd amendment (and I’m not a gun owner and have no desire to own a gun).

        • ninguem

          I don’t even own a gun, have no desire to own a gun, and I take a back seat to no one in support of the Second Amendment.

      • Mengles

        So much for your above post “Don’t make it political–they don’t”. Um, yeah, looking at crime statistics of Chicago (a.k.a. facts) is wrong because they go against your opinion?

  • JPedersenB

    Amen!

  • JannyPi

    For the most part, I believe that presenting guns to young children is regional, and that the child is instructed in proper safety measures. Firearms are often necessary in more rural areas for hunting and protection.
    That said, I would avoid raising my children in a region where this was common practice. Just as I make sure I don’t move into an area with a huge KKK presence, or drug dealers on every corner.
    I agree that it is irresponsible of gun manufacturers to have “cute” models available for kids–that’s a little sick. Scaled down versions probably make sense, but they don’t need to be made more appealing.
    Sad that this topic will bring out the nastiest “patriots” with their vitriol when all we want to do is keep guns out of the wrong hands.

    • C.L.J. Murphy

      “all we want to do is keep guns out of the wrong hands

      While not a gun person myself, I can see gun owners questioning “who is ‘we’ and what are their criteria as to ‘the wrong hands’?” Even more so after recent revelations that the Obama administration used the mighty power of the IRS to harass and abuse those whom they viewed as their “political enemies”.

      The Obama administration has declared open warfare on anyone who doesn’t support him, and as the saying goes “it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you”.

      • JannyPi

        Let me be clear. The WRONG HANDS are the thugs and crazies. Don’t make it political–they don’t.

        • ninguem

          I’ve read that gun clubs in the NYC schools existed into the 1950′s or 1960′s. It was not unknown to see high school kids on subways with their (safely packed away) rifle riding to and from the meets.

          Is that story accurate, anybody from NYC?

          Just what I’ve read.

        • Mengles

          Yes, bc we know that criminals always follow gun control laws, right?

        • P. Littleton

          “Let me be clear. The WRONG HANDS are the thugs and crazies.”

          Which is why you didn’t name-check “thugs and crazies” in your comment, you name-checked “patriots” (even putting the word in scare quotes, for some reason).

          • JannyPi

            Obviously it’s important to you to invalidate my words/statement. My point was, and still is, that guns shouldn’t be made cute or colorful to appeal to children. Guns don’t belong in the hands of inexperienced Kids (thugs), or those with mental problems (crazies). What is it that you disagree with?

  • P. Littleton

    There are so many more important public health issues for doctors to be concentrating on, I can’t understand their fixation on guns.

    Especially in light of the fact that gun crime has significantly declined since the 1990s. NPR writes:

    “Firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993
    to 11,101 in 2011,” according to a report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, “and nonfatal firearm crimes dropped from 1.5 million victimizations in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011.

    There were seven gun homicides per 100,000 people in 1993, the Pew Research Center study says, which dropped to 3.6 gun deaths in 2010.

    “Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49 percent lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew,” according to the Pew study. “The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75 percent lower in 2011 than in 1993.”

    If deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacteria had plummeted nearly 50% in the past 20 years, with no medical or government intervention having been needed, we would look silly for suddenly crying that fighting the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria was THE most important public health issue of our time, important enough to demand that the State step in and create rights-restricting new laws to fight it.

  • http://twitter.com/Wud_Butcher Dave Hill

    CPSC analyzed the 88 reports it received of
    baseball-related deaths of children between 1973 and 1995.
    It found that 68 of the deaths were caused by ball impact
    and 13 were caused by bat impact. Of the 68 ball impact
    deaths, 38 resulted from blows to the chest while 21 deaths
    were caused by a ball hitting a player’s head.

    Of the 162,100 hospital emergency-room-treated injuries
    in 1995, most of the injuries (almost 75 percent) occurred
    to older children ages 10 to 14. This age group represents
    about half of the total number of children playing baseball.

    Of the total number of injuries to children, CPSC
    considers about 33 percent severe, including fractures,
    concussions, internal injuries, and dental injuries. The
    remaining 67 percent less severe injuries include
    contusions, abrasions, lacerations, strains, and sprains.
    More than 50 percent of the children under age 11 who were
    injured while playing baseball sustained injuries to the
    head and neck area, while a larger percentage of older
    children sustained injuries to their arms and legs.

    We need more baseball and bat control. These numbers are horrific.

    • http://twitter.com/Wud_Butcher Dave Hill

      Whenever “children killed with guns” statistics are cited, those numbers extend the age up to 25 years old and include gang-bangers and drug dealers shooting each other.
      Comprehensive gun safety classes should be given to all children in school K-6 or 12..

      • ninguem

        ^^^ What Dave Hill said ^^^

  • http://twitter.com/Cholerajoe Dr Roy Arnold

    I take issue with the statement that no other sports are aimed at causing damage or death. The objective of Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts is to render the opponent unconscious or unable to continue by inflicting brain damage or other injury.

  • Guest

    I
    was 10 when I got my first firearm–an Ithaca single-shot .22 rifle (M-49)– a small rifle that was designed for smaller-stature shooters.
    With that rifle, and the guiding hand of my father and grandfather, I
    learned self-discipline, focus, dedication, safety, respect for
    dangerous tools, and a deep appreciation and respect for the beauty and
    sanctity of all living things.

    I
    used that rifle to earn my “Shooting” Merit badge in Scouts–which
    ultimately led to me achieving the rank of Eagle Scout–something that
    fewer than 2% of all Scouts achieve.

    That rifle lead me to learn about hunting, tracking, nature, wilderness survival, and a deep appreciation for the environment.

    That
    rifle lead to many precious hours spent with my father in the forests
    of WV and PA, hunting, tracking and harvesting small game, and when I
    graduated to larger guns, upland birds and deer. We shared many crisp
    fall mornings in the still, sacred Cathedrals of Nature, walking among
    towering trees, hiking the hills, and fording creeks on our hunts.

    That
    rifle lead me to a deep respect for other firearms owners and users,
    and eventually to 10 years of professional work supporting the US DOJ as
    a contractor, participating in such things as writing manual for LEOs,
    certifying body armor for the US DOJ, and publishing studies on crime
    trends, technology transfer, and policies and procedures for LEOs.

    That
    rifle lead to purchasing handguns as an adult, and a continuing
    participation in USPSA and IPCS competitions that has lasted 2 decades,
    with no real end in sight. I can compete in an enjoyable sport, meet
    people from ll over the world, and exercise a fundamental human right in
    a safe environment with hundreds of like-minded people, and have made
    many new friends because of it.

    That
    rifle lead me to become an ARDENT 2A activist in my 40′s, and I have
    testified before the legislatures of 2 States on numerous occasions. I
    have become more politically involved, a better citizen, a more informed
    voter, and a more active member of the political process.

    That
    rifle lead me to research the history of gun control, which showed me
    that it has historically been inextricably linked to racist policies,
    oppression of the poor, minorities, and women. This research has shown
    me that Reagan was right when he said that 9 most threatening words in
    the English Language are “we’re from the government and we’re here to
    help…”, and that in almost EVERY instance in the history of the US
    where the Government has moved to restrict freedom in exchange for
    “safety” there were deeper, darker, and MUCH more nefarious agendas at
    play.

    And
    I realize now why this little .22 rifle, given to me almost 4 decades
    ago by my grandfather, is perceived as such a dangerous thing by people like you. That rifle made me a stronger citizen, a more aware human, a
    more responsible young man, and a more politically aware and active
    adult.

    And
    it is THOSE things–not the hollowpoint bullets, 30-round magazines, or
    scary black collapsible butt-stocks–that groups like NGVAC, Brady, and
    VPC really fear, because all those things lead to a population that
    cannot be controlled by fear, propaganda, or lies…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Creighton/1378034894 Richard Creighton

    I was 10 when I got my first firearm–an Ithaca single-shot .22 rifle (M-49)– a small rifle that was designed for smaller-stature shooters.
    With that rifle, and the guiding hand of my father and grandfather, I learned self-discipline, focus, dedication, safety, respect for dangerous tools, and a deep appreciation and respect for the beauty and sanctity of all living things.

    I used that rifle to earn my “Shooting” Merit badge in Scouts–which ultimately led to me achieving the rank of Eagle Scout–something that fewer than 2% of all Scouts achieve.

    That rifle lead me to learn about hunting, tracking, nature, wilderness survival, and a deep appreciation for the environment.

    That rifle lead to many precious hours spent with my father in the forests of WV and PA, hunting, tracking and harvesting small game, and when I graduated to larger guns, upland birds and deer. We shared many crisp fall mornings in the still, sacred Cathedrals of Nature, walking among towering trees, hiking the hills, and fording creeks on our hunts.

    That rifle lead me to a deep respect for other firearms owners and users, and eventually to 10 years of professional work supporting the US DOJ as a contractor, participating in such things as writing manual for LEOs, certifying body armor for the US DOJ, and publishing studies on crime trends, technology transfer, and policies and procedures for LEOs.

    That rifle lead to purchasing handguns as an adult, and a continuing participation in USPSA and IPCS competitions that has lasted 2 decades, with no real end in sight. I can compete in an enjoyable sport, meet people from ll over the world, and exercise a fundamental human right in a safe environment with hundreds of like-minded people, and

    have made many new friends because of it.

    That rifle lead me to become an ARDENT 2A activist in my 40′s, and I have testified before the legislatures of 2 States on numerous occasions. I have become more politically involved, a better citizen, a more informed voter, and a more active member of the political process.

    That rifle lead me to research the history of gun control, which showed me that it has historically been inextricably linked to racist policies, oppression of the poor, minorities, and women. This research has shown me that Reagan was right when he said that 9 most threatening words in the English Language are “we’re from the government and we’re here to help…”, and that in almost EVERY instance in the history of the US where the Government has moved to restrict freedom in exchange for “safety” there were deeper, darker, and MUCH more nefarious agendas at play.

    And I realize now why this little .22 rifle, given to me almost 4 decades ago by my grandfather, is perceived as such a dangerous thing by people like you. That rifle made me a stronger citizen, a more aware human, a more responsible young man, and a more politically aware and active adult.

    And it is THOSE things–not the hollowpoint bullets, 30-round magazines, or scary black collapsible butt-stocks–that groups like NGVAC, Brady, and VPC really fear, because all those things lead to a population that cannot be controlled by fear, propaganda, or lies.

    I still own that rifle, and when my grand-daughter turns 10, I plan to begin teaching her how to shoot it, so that I can pass on this Proud American Tradition that in my family–in the form of this stout little rifle–will have spanned 5 generations when it is safely and lovingly placed in her hands.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Mckenzie/1419117137 Brian Mckenzie

    I got my 410 at the age of 5. AFTER months of shooting under supervision and passing a safety exam from my Grandfather. In the 40 years of gun ownership – I have never used my personal weapons in violence. RESPONSIBILITY – learn it at an early age.

  • FL Girl

    According to recently released National Safety Council data (google “IIR_InjuryStatistics2013.pdf” for report):

    .• Firearms are involved in less than 1.5 percent of unintentional fatalities among children 14 years of age and under, and are among the least likely causes of unintentional fatality.

    • During the last decade, the number of unintentional firearm-related
    fatalities involving children 14 years of age and under has decreased by
    28 percent and by 74 percent over the last 20 years.

    Why is this suddenly “a significant child health issue” which “will require legislation” to fix? .22-caliber rifles have been marketed as “starter guns” or “junior guns” for ages, it’s nothing new. Gun-related fatalities of children have been dropping for decades, so it’s not that either. So it’s easy for a cynic to assume that the sudden interest in pushing this narrative is more about politics than about public health. And that’s a shame.

    Anyway, in the specific case you mention, the problem lies not with the gun itself, but with the parents. There is nothing wrong with buying a child his or her own gun, and teaching them how to safely use it under adult supervision. But you simply do not leave a child too young to understand and internalize basic fire arms safety rules (and yes, 5 is too young to leave a child alone and trust that they will 100% follow all safety rules you have taught them) alone in reach of a firearm. This is the very definition of criminal indifference.

    What you want to ban is not guns, but parental negligence. Good luck with that.

  • Anon

    Under-12s whose parents haven’t had them vaccinated probably do more harm in a public health sense than under-12s whose parents have bought them guns.

  • Paulus

    America is insane when it comes to guns.

  • AKMaineIac

    When this story broke, I could have predicted the response of the gun grabbers.

    Look. No responsible adult is going to simply “give” a firearm to a kid and allow them unfettered access to it. That’s why what was reported in the story is exceedingly rare in this country and has become more rare in the last five decades.

    Children, 5 years old and up (depending on mom’s and dad’s sense of when that should occur), should ALL be taught how to handle firearms safely and responsibly. Do YOU disagree with that statement? As a person who is pushing “gun safety” shouldn’t you agree that?

    Note. I did NOT say that they should be taught to handle them safely and then provided with all the guns and ammo they can carry and allowed full and independent access to them. That point is reached when and if the parent thinks the child is there.

    When you buy a kid their first bike, do you point out the handlebars, pedals, and seat, and send them on their merry way with it?

    I hope not.

Most Popular