Before Franklyn Blaha started teaching a gun safety course to children, he was a paramedic and a firefighter for the Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District. With 35 years experience in emergency medical services, Blaha treated many fatal gun injuries.
“During my paramedic career, I lost about 300 patients who died on me,” Blaha said. “Ten to 15 of those were from firearms injuries. And I just don’t want to see that happening to kids.”
Blaha is the instructor for a program that teaches children about firearms. The program, sponsored by the Ben Lomond Gun Club, teaches children the parts of a firearm, marksmanship and how to safely handle a firearm. The program does not teach defense. Children are instructed to call 911 and to hide if they ever confront someone dangerous, such as a home invader.
When it comes to firearms safety, Blaha said the greatest danger facing children is their natural curiosity.
“The dangers are lack of familiarity and peer pressure,” he said. “The problem is that kids have a curiosity about firearms … When they get to 8 years of age, they become very curious. If they’re with friends and they come across a firearm, they will mishandle it. That’s where you run into the accidental injuries.”
The course takes an interactive approach. Using fake ammunition, the children practice handling .22-caliber rifles. Live ammunition is not allowed in the classroom. The course teaches children to point the guns in a safe direction away from people and to only put their fingers on the trigger when they’re ready to fire.
“Never point your gun at something you’re not willing to destroy,” said John Harris, director of the Tri-Lakes chapter for the Ben Lomond Gun Club.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that among children, 85 percent of firearm-related deaths occur at home. The most common circumstance for accidental firearms deaths is when children are playing with loaded guns. For children in the United States, firearms are the third leading cause of death.
Ben Funkhouser, director of the Colorado Springs chapter for the Ben Lomond Gun Club, said using fake ammunition known as “dummy rounds” is the safest way to practice loading and unloading a firearm. Parents who are confident using firearms should take time to show children how to use firearms safely, Funkhouser said.
“If the child does something that’s not safe, the parent will be able to correct that before any kind of significant mistakes occur,” he said.
Language also plays a key role when discussing firearms safety. He said parents should describe firearms as tools, not as weapons.
“It’s a discussion about what the firearm is intended for,” he said. “In reality, the firearm is a tool. The primary intention of that tool is to hit a target, whatever that target might be … If you teach a child that a firearm is a weapon, there’s the connotation that it is to be used as a weapon.”
Like Blaha, Funkhouser believes that curiosity is the greatest threat to children handling firearms.
“Take away their curiosity,” Funkhouser said, “because that’s the No. 1 thing that’s going to get kids into trouble. If you take away their curiosity, you’re going to make the child safer.”
Funkhouser teaches children the danger of firearms by taking them to a gun range where they practice shooting .22-caliber rifles at apples and cantaloupes. Later, he shows them the damage inflicted to the fruit.
“Typically, the entire back half of the apple has been blown off,” he said. “This is to give them an idea of what kind of power is behind these firearms. These can be extremely dangerous, in the same way that a chainsaw can be dangerous … You have to know what you’re doing when you are going to use a firearm as a tool.”
Blaha’s program encourages parents to have open conversations with their children about firearm safety. Children may find themselves in dangerous situations in which a friend is playing with a firearm at home or school. When that happens, Blaha said the children need to immediately tell their teachers or parents.
Tom Hoagland’s two sons have both graduated from Blaha’s firearms safety course. As a family, they often go to the shooting range where they test their accuracy.
“I’d rather have my children educated on firearms so they know how to handle them in a very safe way,” Hoagland said. “You hear about accidents happening. I’d rather have them know how to handle a firearm safely instead of an accident happening.”
For more information on the gun safety course, call Blaha at 761-8002 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.