“What we used to impress with the Hunter Education program was ‘TAB’: Treat every gun as if it is loaded; Always keep pointing in a safe direction; Be absolutely certain of your target and what lies beyond your target,” he said.
Parents who want to get their children involved in shooting sports need to be aware of what type of gun they are purchasing and provide appropriate training, Mertz said.
“First off, the parents should be familiar with the firearms,” he said.
In 4-H, the program has an age requirement of 11-years-old, though the leader can use their discretion with children at 10-years-of-age, Mertz said. However, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Mentor Youth program for young hunters does not have an age requirement.
“Some people think parents should make the decision as to when their children are mature enough and able to shoot,” he said. “I myself I’m probably thinking maybe 8 years old (is the minimum for firearms), though I hate to put a number on it.”
Mertz said in his home, he always impressed the seriousness of gun safety on his now-grown daughters.
“We always told them, ‘These things are dangerous, they are deadly. You should not touch them unless we are with you,’” he said.
However, this can be extremely hard to do with young children, said Dr. Pat Bruno, with the Children’s Advocacy Center in Northumberland.
“They’re children and you can’t expect them to know the ramifications of the simple act of pulling a trigger,” he said.
Bruno emphasized the need for gun control legislation which protects children and funding for federal research initiatives to look at the effects of guns and gun violence.
“We need to apply science to gun safety,” he said.