JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tragedy struck a Northside neighborhood in Jacksonville the first week of February when when an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 5-year-old sister and injured his 4-year-old friend.
The kids were playing with the gun when they were home alone. The owner of the gun has since been arrested, but the incident begs the questions: When should parents teach their kids about gun safety and how?
Jacksonville Clay Target Sports, a local gun range in North Jacksonville, believes the sooner the better for kids. They teach about 50 children a day how to properly shoot and handle a gun. Most of their young clients are about five years old.
Their method is just one of many philosophies on how to best prevent gun violence and stop the increase in accidental shootings among children in the U.S.
Tony Knight agrees that knowledge is power, even when you're talking about guns, and even when your kids are just toddlers. He handed his son, Tony Knight Jr., his first gun when he was three years old and he still stands by his side at the shooting range today with his hand on his son's back for support.
“No matter how old they are we want to make sure someone is there in case something happens,” said Knight.
Knight's son says he understands it's not a game and that guns pose real dangers.
“People may use them wrong and I think that’s wrong," said Knight, Jr. "People should use them for hunting, shooting targets and other stuff, but not harming people.”
In fact, knowing the risk, is the very reason they say they do this in the first place.
“Because it can hurt people, yeah dad taught me it can hurt people.”
The risk doesn’t just exist out in the open, it exists at home, where most accidental shootings occur with children under the age of five.
“If I see a gun in my house I’m supposed to leave it alone and tell my parents and if they’re not home just leave it alone.”
Knight says he knew his son was ready to learn at a young age because he proved he was responsible, stable-minded and careful.
“If they can learn and listen and follow directions then they are ready to be taught the gun,” said Knight.
According to data from the national Gun Violence Archive three-year-olds are the most vulnerable for accidental shootings. In 2016 nearly 90 three-year-olds were killed or injured in accidental shootings. That's why Knight, and others at the range, believe in teaching their kids as soon as possible.
Safety Officer Larry Freeman says he was taught by his dad to use a gun at seven years old.
“He taught me gun safety as a young one and I’ve carried that all through my life.”
Freeman says his job is to “keep everybody safe”. He looks over the entire property.
“We’re open to the public. We get a lot of new people who really need help,” said Freeman.
He perhaps is the biggest believer in this hands-on method to keep kids safe.
“You get rid of the mystique of the gun," said Freeman. "That way, now they know what it can do, they’ve seen what it can do and they’ve been taught what it can do. And then they’ll know what to tell their parents if they find one, they won’t be sneaking it off to see how it works and wind up killing somebody.”
He says at the range and in his own family they take the mystery of the gun out and replace it with knowledge.
“Kids are kids and they’re going to be curious. They weren’t curious anymore.”
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