November 10, 2011 § 11 Comments

We just got the boys their first gun, a little .22/410 combo. “Youth model” is the vernacular, which I suppose is preferable to saying “this firearm, which is perfectly capable of killing pretty much anything it is shot at, was engineered specifically for children.” Indeed, it’s almost comically small and light; I’ve seen toy guns that looked and felt more like what I think a gun should look and feel like.

Not that I’m any kind of expert on the subject. I did not grow up hunting, or in a gun family. If I remember correctly, my parents owned a .22 back in their homesteading days as part of their chicken defense strategy (to be clear, they were defending the chickens from predators, not defending themselves from the chickens). I’m not sure if the thing was ever fired in anger or even in practice.

I had a BB gun when I was a kid, but after plinking a few Budweiser cans and killing a squirrel or two, that phase passed. About ten years ago, when we decided to take full responsibility for slaughtering our pigs, I purchased a single shot .22 magnum. It has served us well, and would have been a good gun for the boys to learn on, except for the fact that neither one of them was strong enough aim it steadily.

The boys want to hunt and I want to hunt with them. That’s at least a year or two down the road, but clearly, we’ve taken a big first step in that direction. I know many people would recoil at the idea of a 7 and 9 year old in command of what is, inarguably, a weapon capable of deadly force. There was a time when I would have been among them. But the closer I’ve come to the messy reality of raising and slaughtering my family’s meat, the closer I’ve come to the understanding that guns are not conceptual. They possess no inherent characteristics. Whatever traits we ascribe them, we do from the frailty of our humanness, with all the bias, contradiction, and simple misinterpretation that implies.

In short, a gun is a tool. And like all of the other tools on our farm, I aim to provide my boys the opportunity to learn to use it well.

§ 11 Responses to Tools

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    This is the best piece on firearms and children I’ve ever read. You’ve done an excellent job of offering an understanding of how the firearm fits in our lives.

  • Lindsay Koehler says:

    Lovely post. I got into shooting as a teenager, first BBs and then pistols. Long guns are probably a great idea for little guys — less of a grab-n-go tool than a handgun…more businesslike, as in chores needing to get done. The NRA has a great education progam for kids; you seem to take a very thoughtful approach to everything in your life, so I’m sure you’ve thought about teaching the boys gun safety, but you might want to check out the Eddie Eagle program for some ideas.

  • Victoria says:

    Yep, the realities of providing your own food really change perception.

    I almost didn’t see the boys in the leaf pile at first. :)

  • Spencer Brownell says:

    You are absolutely correct. Guns posses no morality, that falls to the user of the gun. Great post, great blog.

  • Ben Hewitt says:

    Thanks, everyone.

    Spencer! So pleased you stopped by. Give my best to everyone.

    – Ben

  • Elizabeth says:

    Very much enjoyed your most recent article in Yankee Magazine, and this post is (also, as always) excellent. I’m seriously thinking about confiscating all my childrens’ nerf/toy guns, but I really don’t have a problem with the idea of getting them a real one. I worry that having the toy ones about teaches them not to respect what a gun is really capable of. But a real gun, as you say, is a tool with certain uses. I’d much rather they learn that now, and to treat such things with respect – just like the saws, hammers, and other tools that they are allowed to use with careful supervision. (For context, my children are a bit younger than yours: 7, 5, and 3.)

  • Alissa says:

    My boys are 10 and 8, and for Christmas this year will be receiving at .22 rifle (the 8 year old) and a pump action 20 gauge shotgun (the 10 year old). They both own bb guns and bows and have proven themselves to be responsible and safe. This is the next step to their independence as hunters. So far they’ve only hunted with adults, but I expect them to be able to go out as teens without constant supervision.

  • Thank you Ben! Men in process need to be under dad’s wing, learning to use a gun with respect. I think the difference between boys and men is that men see guns as a tool whose power is to be respected, boys see guns as power. Hollywood makes guns seem like a toy that only kills bad people (good people seem to be able to walk through a bullet storm without fear of injury)

    Household rules my dad gave us (from his dad, to our sons). These are in addition to legal issues such as emptying and breaking guns open for transport in a car or truck.

    The gun is always loaded (even when it is not, we never stored loaded guns but still treated them as if they were loaded. When I shot out my mother’s bathroom window with a bb gun that “wasn’t loaded,” my dad gave me that look before he gave me my punishment….cleaning up and paying for the window with babysitting money)

    Never aim at anything you do not intend to kill

    If you kill it, you eat it (protection for songbirds)

    When handing off your weapon to the person standing with you, (for instance, when you need two hands to cross a barbed wire fence) do not release your grip on your gun until you hear the other person say “thank you” indicating that they have a hold of the gun. That way it doesn’t drop to the ground and damage anything that could later damage the shooter.

    No one walks in front of the person with the gun (very important bird hunting and for the inevitable case of tunnel vision that comes with “buck fever”)

    The gun is always loaded.

    Now; get out and make some memories and meals.

  • Vonnie says:


    This is so very timely for us. I was raised in a house that did not believe in hunting. Hunters were enemies for the most part, as I rode horses in the deep woods of NH in my youth and was actually shot at once when someone did not see my glaring orange jacket or saddle blanket or hear the sleigh bell I always kept attached to my saddle in autumn. They saw the deep bay of my horse and shot. I’m hazarding to guess that person was not raised in a hunting household either.

    We have been talking about just this issue because my two boys are 9 & 7. Their dad did not grow up hunting either, but as we’re making a homestead life for ourselves, we are seeing the inherent value in hunting. All ethical discussion aside, we eat meat. Deer, duck, geese and other such are food with a truly free range life. My favorite kind. Embracing the homesteading and self sufficient lifestyle as we do, we’d like the boys to have the skills and tools to hunt. My husband took the hunter safety course offered by our state this summer, and hopes to start his hunting endeavors next fall.

    As we want them to have this ability to obtain wild game, we’ve been bandying about when is the right time to get the boys their first bb guns. They are both responsible young men who we feel are old enough to learn a healthy respect for firearms. We have decided that the oldest will get his first bb gun for Christmas this year. And yes, we include in our rules anything they actually kill, they have to eat. Well, except maybe the copious rodents at our new place.

    Great post, thanks. ~Vonnie

  • Jean says:

    What a great post and great comments as well. Although I don’t hunt, I raised a son who does and is raising my grandsons to do so as well. I’m forwarding this to them. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Johanna says:

    They will have a very clear and real understanding of the things guns can do, which is more than can be said for lots of kids who grow up playing with toy guns, but without the knowledge of the gravity of what real guns do. (Just like they have a real understanding of where the pork they eat comes from.)

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