What I’ve Learned From a Decade of Teaching Kids How to Use Guns

Some gun owners and trainers believe knowledge is power. I'm one of them.

Gun control. It’s the topic of legislation, punditry, student activism, and the ire of gun activists. The conversations, which usually center around banning certain gun hardware and raising the minimum age at which a citizen can buy firearms, often fall short of legislative action. Firearms in the wrong hands are dangerous and even in the “right” hands they can still be dangerous. Navigating this topic — and the presence of guns in America — is difficult for parents, especially those who live in gun-free households. But some people choose to face the topic head on and equip their kids with all of the knowledge they could possibly have about guns.

Jacob Paulsen is one of those people. He’s the president and founder of He’s also spent the last 12 years teaching more than 10,000 students, adults and minors, gun safety and firearm classes. Paulsen is also a Boy Scout Troop leader and a Merit Badge counselor in a myriad of gun safety and firing discipline merit badges. Beyond his work face-to-face with kids, he also manages a network of 60 firearm instructors across the country and helps them plan lessons and run their businesses. He’s a proud gun owner, the father of two kids, 7 and 10, and a strong believer in the old adage that knowledge is power.

Here, Jacob talks about his approach to gun safety, why he believes that radical honesty is important, and why even the most anti-gun activist can get behind their kids being informed.

All of our classes start with gun safety rules. That’s the foundation with which all training occurs. That’s true no matter how many times a child has been through the training. It could be that I’m working with the exact same Scout Troop I taught a year ago — we still repeat the same gun-safety lecture every single time. There are four foundational gun safety rules that are industry universal. We go through those. There are also often some other safety rules that might be unique to circumstances. If we’re about to go out on a gun range we might need to talk about rules that are specific to that range. Gun safety is always first and foremost.

The next stage of the conversation is about firearms themselves. Most of the time we’re talking about rifles. We might talk about the kinds of sights that are on that rifle, we might talk about if it’s a bolt action or a semi-automatic, how it functions and how it works. We want them to have a working knowledge of how the firearm operates. How to load it. How to unload it. How to ensure that it’s been cleared properly. All of those kinds of things that are also extensions of safety but are also required to properly operate the firearm.

I have two kids. They are 7 and 10. In our home, bearing in mind that I am full-time in this business, guns are part of our life and our lifestyle. To suggest that we don’t have conversations with our kids until they hit some arbitrary age, to me, is asinine. In our house, starting at age zero, we openly talk about things like guns and drugs and pornography, and other things that we think are in society that are concerning, alarming, or inappropriate for people at a certain age.

We don’t have any alcohol or tobacco in our home but that doesn’t mean that because it’s not in our house, we don’t talk to our children about it. We do. We talk to them about it because we know that it’s in society and they are going to encounter it. In a similar way, guns exist. At the very least, children will start to notice that. Having a conversation about what they are, what they do, and what is and what is not an appropriate use of them is viable.

One of my children was at a friend’s house. That’s an environment that I can’t control and it’s an inevitable environment that all parents have to deal with. There were toy guns. When the friend picked up the toy gun and handled it in a way that was against the safety rules, my son put a stop to it. Even knowing it was a toy gun, my son still knows that there are certain things we do and certain things we do not do with guns because we have to universally follow the rule. We can’t be particular about when we choose to follow it and not follow it, if you’re going to be effective. That really illustrated to me a huge impact.

Kids are in environments that parents aren’t in control of. In those environments, you have to ask yourself: Have I taught my children? Have I given them enough knowledge and enough experience that they’re going to be able to make good decisions when I’m not there?

We did a research study as a company at the very beginning of 2017, a little over a year ago. We looked at 300 examples in this country of what we call “negligent discharges.” Negligent discharges is the term we use in the industry to refer to what people outside of the industry typically call “accidental” discharges. We did a data analysis on those 300 stories. About a third of these incidents were a situation where a child, under the age of 18, discharged the firearm. That’s scary to think about. 53 and a half percent took place in the home.

The alternative to knowledge and experience is ignorance and curiosity. Ignorance and curiosity are killers. The decision that a parent or a teacher has to make is: “Would I rather this child know nothing or something?” Something is always better than nothing. Imagine what would happen to our children if instead of talking to them proactively about sex and drugs, we instead just didn’t tell them anything. If we just said, “When you turn 18, we’ll talk about it.” What kind of a disaster would that be?

Here’s the unfortunate thing that we have to remember as parents: guns do exist in our society, one way or the other. Whether you choose to embrace or abhor them in your home, guns exist. Pretending they don’t is going to be very detrimental to your child. They might be in your kid’s friends home. They might be on a playground one day. We have to get some form of education, training, or knowledge to that child to equip them to make good decisions in a society where guns exist.

As Told To Lizzy Francis