Every shooter I know has a personal connection to, and often still has, their first gun... not necessarily the first gun they ever shot, but the first gun that was really their very own gun. My first gun still gets regular use and has a special place in my memories and our gun safe. One of my great pleasures as a parent was giving our daughter her first gun... and her second... and her... well you get the point.
There's just something special about a gun that is yours... not your dad's, your uncle's, your friend's, but yours to keep and use. My daughter's first gun was a Marlin Model 15YS single-shot .22 youth rifle which her momma and I gave her as a Christmas gift when she was seven years-old.
That model has now been replaced by an updated model in Marlin's line-up, but there are many similar choices out there from reputable companies at affordable prices. Some of the considerations about when and why we chose this particular type gun for my daughter's first gun might be of interest to other parents considering a first gun for their youngin's.
As a long time NRA and 4H Shooting Sports instructor, along with previous experience in law enforcement... it seems I get my fair share of questions about when a child should get their first gun and what kind of gun that should be. I'd like to discuss both of those questions, although opinions do vary on this subject matter.
Let's talk about WHEN a child should get their first gun...
Every child is unique and different. There are many factors involved, but you must remember that every child is growing and maturing physically, emotionally, and intellectually at different rates. Getting your son his first gun on his tenth birthday just because you were given your first gun birthday on your tenth birthday is not very sound reasoning.
Maybe you had five years of shooting around the farm by the age of ten where your son has yet to fire a gun in his whole, short life. I've shot with eight year-olds I wouldn't think twice about handling a gun at the range or while out hunting... and I've met sixteen year-olds I wouldn't let near a gun, let alone behind the wheel of a vehicle. You need to look at each child, assess those aspects I previously mentioned and make your own determination as a responsible parent.
Another thing to remember, it's not about YOU! It's about that young gal or guy who may or may not share your enthusiasm for shooting or your particular type of shooting. I know a young gal all of twelve years-old that seems to get frequent belly-aches while at the skeet range. She racks her shotgun while her dad and brother keep shooting... and heads for the club house to text her friends. She clearly has little interest in shooting that pricey over-under or dad's continual pushing for her to reach perfection at clay-bustin'.
When should a kid have their own gun... I'd say when they reach a level of responsibility, maturely, and trust that is equal to the challenge and opportunity of an adult activity and tool, which guns and shooting are.
The other question I'm regularly asked is WHAT should be the first gun for a child...
Now I've got some opinions on this question that may not sit well with others, but I'll lay them out and some of the reasoning for them... you can obviously draw your own conclusion. If you have a child that has a fair bit of shooting experience with your guns or other guns, or if they're already well into their teenage years... your choices for a first gun can cover a wider range of different firearms.
If this will be the first gun the child has ever shot extensively and they are on the younger side as in pre-teen, five to ten years-old, etc. you should get a gun that fits the child. Yes, they will grow out of it, although there are a lot of youth model guns out there with adjustable and replaceable stocks that will allow the gun to grow with your youngin'.
I strongly feel the best first gun for many kids, especially those still fairly new to shooting, is a single-shot .22 youth rifle with "iron" sights. I think it lends itself to the fundamentals for shooting successfully. They're accurate, cheap to shoot, and recoil is practically non-existent. There is a longer sight radius than found on pistols, it's easier for a child to focus on the front sight with that longer sight radius than with a short sight radius found on a pistol, and that helps build basic marksmanship skills... which a "scoped" gun won't do.
A single-shot .22 youth rifle makes the young shooter think, handle, and operate the gun with each and every shot. That builds muscle and process memory, plus... the chance of an errant finger on the trigger firing a second or third successive shot accidentally is non-existent. It also tends to slow the young shooter down so they think and focus on making each shot... as I often see kids with semi-autos sending a lot of lead downrange, but not really improving their skills at shooting.
The single-shot .22 youth rifle is typically light enough that the youngin' can actually hold and operate the gun without assistance. They are simple to make safe... and they are easy to take down for cleaning... which should be the young shooter's responsibility... not mom's or dad's. It's hard to beat a single-shot .22 youth rifle for durability and accuracy.
Now I realize some young shooters are getting their first rifle in their teen-age years and while a single-shot or bolt-action, magazine fed .22 rifle still makes a good starter gun... they'll likely want a semi-auto like a Marlin 60, Remington 597, Smith & Wesson M&P15-22, Ruger 10/22, or one of the many other reliable offerings on the market. If that is the direction you go, I would highly recommend you hold off on purchasing a scope for junior until they've mastered the fundamentals of shooting and marksmanship.
I previously mentioned the adjustable M4-style stock of the "AR" styled .22 rifles which are great for growing youngin's, but remember that some of those guns are still a bit heavy for really young shooters to hold and operate without assistance. Also, if you get a compact/youth model of a Ruger 10/22 and other rifles, you can always replace the compact stock with a full-size stock later on. Oh, and when they get the fundamentals of shooting and marksmanship down, by all means... go ahead and let them add a scope.
There's a lot to think about when getting that young gal or guy their first gun and the best thing for success is a responsible, loving, caring parent that will carefully evaluate their particular situation and then commit the time to make it a successful learning and bonding experience that will last a life-time.
Remember, time is the biggest and best investment you can make with your youngin's and shootin'... 'cause I believe nothing is better for a gun owner than a life-time of training and practice. Get them involved with shootin' opportunities in your area like Boy Scouts, 4H Shooting Sports, NRA youth shooting clubs, local club fun shoots, or shooting range leagues.
That's what we did for... My daughter's first gun...
NOTE: Posting and comment moderation may be a bit slow this week as I'm still recovering from surgery last week and those severe Midwest storms still have our internet access at home down and out... I hope you and yours are safe and well.