I had a chance to talk on the phone with the inimitable Kathy Jackson today, and we had a terrific chat. One of the things we talked about was a problem that’s vexed me for some time: How to use a firearm for self-defense, and how to empower our children to be able to defend themselves, when our kids have developmental or mental health challenges.
As I’ve alluded to previously on the blog, my daughter “Nutmeg” was adopted from the foster care system. She had a great many things happen to her early in life that should not, in my opinion, ever happen to a child. (I’m going to leave it at that out of respect for her privacy.) But the result of those early traumas is that Nutmeg has some challenges in the areas of impulse control, judgment, and decision-making.
Obviously, those traits could be dangerous when combined with the presence of a firearm. However, they also manifest themselves in behavior choices on Nutmeg’s part that increase her risk of victimization. So, what’s a parent to do? After chatting with Kathy about the issue, here are some things I came up with:
- Recognize that a gun is not a solution to every problem. More than that, though, a gun isn’t a solution for every person either. I remain hopeful, with time and added maturity (and additional therapeutic intervention), that Nutmeg’s skills will continue to improve. That may happen, or it may not. She may join the ranks of gun owners someday, or not.
- Be extra attentive to safety if you have guns in the house. I have a friend whose 12-year-old daughter is super-responsible and trustworthy. I’d have no concerns whatsoever about leaving her alone in a house with an unlocked firearm. Even though Nutmeg is older, I would not leave a firearm around and unlocked if she was here alone. If you have kids whose capacity to exercise judgment and make good decisions is limited, either by age and maturity or by developmental challenges, you need to be extra careful about keeping your guns on your body, locked up, or otherwise inaccessible.
- Be realistic about your child’s capability. Self-delusion lies at the root of many tragic occurrences, and self-delusion can be downright deadly where guns are concerned. Ask yourself questions like these, and be honest about the answers: Is my child responsible enough to have access to a firearm? Is she trustworthy enough to be left home alone when guns are around? Can I trust her to follow directions on the range? If the answers to these questions, or ones like them, are “no”, you need to respond accordingly – even if that means making choices you wish you didn’t have to make.
- Focus on teaching situational awareness. I’m reluctant to teach Nutmeg to shoot given her challenges, but I recognize that she still needs to learn how to keep herself safe. And to me, the largest part of personal safety comes from situational awareness. Knowing how to fight our way out of danger is an important skill, to be sure, but avoiding the danger in the first place is much better. So I rarely pass up an opportunity to teach and reinforce Nutmeg’s awareness of her surroundings. This is the core of personal safety for me, and it’s the core of what I’m teaching her.
- Consider a martial arts class. Martial arts provide a tool to ensure safety when access to a weapon isn’t possible, and also pay dividends in terms of physical fitness, self-esteem, discipline and character. I’m not sure if Nutmeg is interested in pursuing this option, but I certainly think it’s worth encouraging.
What do you think? If you have a child with special needs, I’d especially be interested in hearing what you decided to do in this regard.
Photo credit: gunvault.com