So—what’s the right thing to do for a parent who believes in the value of responsible gun ownership, the futility of prohibition measures, and the right to self-defense (even if it’s against imaginary giant spiders?) How do I reconcile my personal beliefs, the rules of gun safety, and my kid’s inability to fully understand the concepts of death and killing?
I posted a quick answer in comments:
Directed interest is DEFINITELY the way to go. That’s what I’ve done with TheBoy, and it’s turned out great.
You get a chance to drill the Four Rules into their heads until they know them in their sleep. They learn safe and proper gun handling. Most importantly, IMHO, they learn that guns are not objects to be feared, but tools with which one must exercise care and caution.
No sweeping under the rug.
Just “Here it is. Here’s how you handle it responsibly. Any infractions and it gets taken away”.
Trust me on this one. Once you’ve relieved Quinn of his favorite Nerf gun, Star Wars blaster, or cap gun for the nth time, he will rapidly equate “pointing gun at Lyra” with “gun goes bye-bye”…
And I’ll close with this shot: http://i696.photobucket.com/albums/vv330/stuckma09/MagicKingdom021.jpg
Notice the placement of TheBoy’s trigger finger…
This method does require a careful monitoring of your child's toy gun handling - something I'm certain Marko will do well. It's also a fantastic way of drilling safe gun handling into your kids - which is of utmost importance for a household with firearms in it. Never pass up the opportunity to teach your kids proper care and handling of firearms. Heck, never pass up any opportunity to teach your kids proper care and handling of anything!
I've never been of the "don't give kids toy guns because they'll learn bad habits" mindset. They'll only learn bad habits if you allow them to - you do need to monitor their usage constantly. You need to use each infraction as a learning experience - take the gun away and ask them "Which of the four rules did you break?" You lay down ironclad ground rules - any of the four rules gets broken, the gun gets taken away - and you enforce those rules.
I can't stress how important education is here. Making absolutely certain that your child acts in a safe manner around firearms is one of the most important things a gun-owning parent can do. You need to teach your child that firearms are not toys; that they shouldn't fear them but be careful and follow the rules. One of the best ways to teach that lesson and reinforce it is to let them have Nerf guns or cap guns or squirt guns and watch how they use them.
The payoff is immense - the peace of mind of knowing your kid won't be the one to pick up a gun he finds in a couch cushion and wind up shooting himself or a playmate...
That is all.