I sat down with Sergeant Craig Mortensen to talk about gun safety and the importance of talking to and teaching your children basic gun safety. SGT Mortensen has been with the Longmont Police Department for 20+ years. He was previously the head of the SROs (School Resource Officers) but SGT Mortensen recently switched to leading the SWAT Team and is the Special Operations Supervisor for special events.
*DISCLAIMER - The following information is NOT an official position from the Longmont, Colorado Police Department.*
Q- Why is it important for all parents to talk to their children about gun safety regardless if there are guns in their own house?
A- It is important to talk to your children about gun safety because guns are part of our country's culture; and even if you do not have guns in your home, your children are bound to come in contact with them at some point. Everybody needs to understand basic gun safety skills regardless if guns are in your home or not. Just as we talk to our children about drugs or stranger danger; we need to talk about gun safety. We can tie it into a normal conversation on personal safety and then segway into a bigger conversation giving them basic knowledge on broader safety issues. Be sure that when we talk to our children we are not attaching the stigma of guns with it. By removing the stigmas we are able to have a serious and honest conversation with a better understanding of the subject.
Q-What age should we start talking to our children about gun safety?
A- There is no specific age that is right for every child. It depends on their maturity and when the parents feel that the child is ready to handle the topic. Make the conversation and level of awareness age appropriate and talk to them more in depth as they grow.
Q-What tips can you give for starting the conversation and what are important points to talk about?
A- Teach as moments arise in real life. If your child plays with a Nerf gun use it as a way to start the conversation. Teach them the basic ideas: Do not hold your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot. Do not aim a gun unless you are ready to destroy what you are aiming at. If your family does not own guns then set aside time to sit down and talk about it because children will most likely be around guns at some point and we need to teach them before that time.
Q- How should guns be stored safely?
A- Always store guns in a locked safe or have a locking mechanism on it. Gun safes, cable locks and trigger locks are all pretty universal and easy to use. If you have a safe change your code occasionally to be sure no one has the code that shouldn't. Storing your ammo separate from your guns is a good idea
also. Don't forget that training, teaching and education on gun safety is important even if you think your guns are safely stored.
Q-What should we tell our children to do if they are at a friends house and they find a gun or if the friend wants to play with the gun?
A- Guns are NOT TOYS and should be treated with respect. Tell your child to not touch it and let an adult know. If they come home and tell you then you need to contact the other parent and talk to them about what happened. The other parents may not be aware that their child is getting into their guns and maybe they need to secure them better and talk to their own children more about gun safety.
Q-What should your child do if they see someone with a gun?
A- Context is everything. If you see someone walking around with a gun but they are not showing any signs of possibly harming anyone then there may not be a reason to worry. However; if your child feels scared or unsure then have them find an adult to tell. The adult should be able to assess the situation and if they feel the person means to do harm or they are unsure then they can always call the police to check into it. It is important to remember, and that your children remember, that guns do not always mean bad and context is key.
Q- Where can parents take their children to teach them to properly and safely use a gun and at what age is it ok/appropriate for a child to handle a gun?
A- There is no legal age limit for teaching your children about guns and gun safety. Parents need to make the decision based on maturity and decide when the child is of age to not only learn but also retain the information. You can find information on the internet and even videos about gun safety to help teach your children. You can also take your children to the shooting range or a private license instructor. You may choose to have your child take the hunters safety course because even if they do not plan to go hunting the course is filled with knowledge on safety. Other suggestions of places you can look into would be the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Boy Scouts of America and the NRA (National Rifle Association). *Links to more information on these places will be below.
Q-What are the most important things you want parents to know about general gun safety?
A- Guns are most likely not going away any time soon and your child will more than likely be exposed to them in some form at some point. We all have the responsibility to ensure gun safety is talked about and learned. Pellet guns, airsoft rifle and paintball guns can all be dangerous as well and you should follow basic gun safety rules with these guns also. Gun safety covers ALL guns.
Links for more information:
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners - https://rmgo.org/
Boy Scouts of America - https://www.scouting.org/
NRA (National Rifle Association) - https://home.nra.org/