In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and school shootings ever since, a lot of parents have asked how their children can be safe at school if something like this hits closer to home.
This is a national discussion that, I hope, will be ongoing and will result in some really smart actions on the parts of school officials. However, there are two simple concepts you can begin teaching your children now.
What does gunfire actually sound like?
Kids should know what live gunfire sounds like. Believe it or not, even seasoned policemen can sometimes be fooled by the sound of a gunshot since it can sound like a car backfiring, a firecracker, or just a loud POP.
If the absolute worst happens and someone is firing a gun anywhere near your kid, they must recognize the sound. Otherwise, how will they know what to do next? Don’t rely on TV shows or movies.
Take your child to a shooting range, even if you are not going to actually shoot!
If you go to an outdoor range, park a distance away and let them hear the sound of gunfire without any ear protection. Move a little closer and let them hear a few shots without ear protection and then with ear protection. By the way, you can purchase inexpensive foam earplugs at any drugstore or Walmart. (I usually wear “foamies” along with earmuffs.)
Indoor ranges will require everyone to wear ear protection and they will loan it to you, but even with that, there will be no doubt what gunfire sounds like. You don’t have to be inside the actual range, either. Trust me. Your kids will have no difficulty hearing the sounds, even if they are just in the business area of the range or store. Gun store owners are notorious for keeping kids safe and enforcing gun-safety rules. If you ask for information or tips, you’ll be in very good hands.
Once your kids have been educated about the sound of gunfire, they will be able to identify it quickly and take action, whether it’s running away, calling for help, or taking cover. Considering that a bullet can travel thousands of feet per second, every second counts when it comes to staying safe. Compare that with the length of time required to find a phone, dial 911, give a coherent explanation of a live gunfire event to the operator, and the arrival of police… just sayin.
Concealment vs. Taking cover
Kids need to know the difference between “hiding”, or concealment, and “taking cover.” I’m a full grown adult, but I could “hide” behind a silk tree in my house or under the kitchen table. Neither would protect me from much danger at all, much less gunfire, but it might conceal me from a bad guy with really bad eyesight!
“Concealment” is simply hiding behind or under something. It’s possible that hiding place might conceal them from a bad guy, but simple concealment is no protection from a bullet headed your way.
In movies, you’ll often hear one character yell to another, “Take cover!” Taking cover means hiding behind or under something that offers real protection from gunfire. In a typical commercial building, including schools, this could be a concrete or brick wall. If school classrooms have metal doors, that is a better cover than a wooden door.
Older kids will understand this concept and their need to know. For younger kids, it’s a little trickier. No parent wants their child to suffer from nightmares over a survival lesson that, to you and me, is a practical matter. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, talking about “what if?” is a good way to find out what they might already know about safety and then discuss 1 or 2 smart strategies for “just in case.”
Besides teaching the importance of taking cover, consider adding a few items to their backpack — things that will come in handy should they ever have to hunker down somewhere for a while. This list is a good starting point, but check with your child’s teacher to make sure these are school-approved.
Teaching these concepts to your kids
Sadly, when a school shooting happens, it will be covered in social media, the news media, and across the internet. Most kids will hear about it.
The fear is already there long before you enter the picture. What probably is not there are techniques or strategies to use if something like that should happen in their own school or at home.
If your kids have been talking and asking about what happened, you may as well get to the point about discussing ways to stay safe and get it over with. Kids appreciate honesty and directness and probably have plenty of worries they may not have voiced.
They’ve already learned about cyber security (never give your name, age, address) and much more. Equipping them with information and some practice when it comes to staying safe from gunfire makes sense in this day and age.
To parents who hate guns…
Even if you personally hate guns, raising children who are completely ignorant of gun safety rules and how a gun works is negligent parenting, in my opinion. We teach them about fire safety, bicycle safety, how to dial 911, and staying away from Mr. Stranger Danger, but too many parents pretend that guns don’t exist when it comes to those safety talks. With 200 million guns in America, no parent can afford to stick their head in the sand and wish for a different reality.
Blunt talk, I know, but Hollywood, video games, and the media make guns seem so exciting and glamorous that kids, especially boys, become fascinated by them. I kept my kids away from guns, too, until one day I saw my son fashion a “gun” out of a pizza crust and realized he already had a fascination — now he needed information and training.
Once kids learn just how loud a real gun is and learn how to be safe around them, and that includes handling them safely, guns lose their allure. After several sessions at various gun ranges, my daughter became quite adept with her skills but bored, too. Now as a teenager, I’m confident she knows what to do if she ever sees a random gun somewhere it shouldn’t be, knows what gunfire sounds like, and would know where to find the best possible location for cover.
Read more about kids and gun safety in my series, Common Sense Strategies for Teaching Gun Safety:
- Guns Are No Big Deal
- Guns ARE a Big Deal!
- Never Underestimate the Stupid Factor
- Guns and Fire Are a Lot Alike
- Take Advantage of Experts & Their Resources