This is a great topic - great lead in (whole post) as well.
Long story and some thoughts follow:
I am out of the young kids zone by a good bit, but I’ve been a shooter almost all of my life - and aware of gun safety from about four years of age when I got my first six shooter cap guns. When my parents gave me the pistols for Christmas (“matched” pair of Single Action Army cap pistols) I was instructed that I could never point them at people or houses, or cars or pets. I could point them at targets and trees and birds and game animals (not farm animals - not that we had many around us as I was growing up).
This was interesting in concept, because even at four I had an active play with soldiers and playing “army” in the neighborhood, etc. We could use sticks, point our fingers (the first true “hand gun”) and say bang bang you’re dead (“you missed!” “No I didn’t!” etc., etc.) and we had squirt guns - which were OK to point at people (clear plastic orange Luger P-08’s stick in my memory). BUT - the metal cap pistols had to be treated as real.
I have a dim memory of the instant confiscation of my beloved “pistols” when my mom saw me point them at one of my playmates. I don’t remember how long they were removed, but I remember bitter tears and possibly a blue faced tantrum - which earned its own spanking - but Mom was immovable. And when Dad got home he and I had an in depth discussion and the guns were gone for a long time. When they reemerged, I don’t recall ever mishandling them again.
I first fired a .22 LR rifle when I was eight (Mom’s rifle) and that really confirmed my love for firearms and marksmanship. At 84 she still has that rifle, and it is possible she would outshoot me on the range with it. (She was - and probably remains - that good). Dad never really liked shooting for fun, and he didn’t hunt. Partly his experience in the war I think. But, when we went shooting as a family, and when with extended family, he was not only competent, he was really good. My folks were models of gun safety and excellence in marksmanship.
At home as kids, we were NOT to touch the guns. Ever. And we didn’t (early training with the cap guns was a factor - I didn’t want to lose the privilege of shooting the .22). And at that time I guess we had demonstrated sufficient consciousness and responsibility that when my dad had to go out of town and there had been a number of break-ins in the neighborhood (we were kind of in the country, but a loose group of homes all together) and my mom borrowed a pump shotgun for defense - it was stored in a closet with easy access for Mom. No safe, no worries.
Fast forward to my own sons (two). I began with them by training them with the coolest small scale but very real cap double barreled shotguns from Cabela’s. They may still sell them. You placed a very loud cap in the primer area of a small scale shotgun cartridge - which loaded just like the real thing. Same deal as when I was a kid. I remember that it took one removal for the one son, and two for the other and they both “got it.” I remember when paintball came into popularity that I really wrestled with whether we’d pick it up as a family because you really do shoot people with those paintball guns (or air soft). But at that point I figured that if I could differentiate at four, they could do fine at 9 or 10 and so we went into paintball cheerfully and had a great time.
Nevertheless, I kept my firearms in a gun safe all the time and had the keys with me. They reminded me years later that they weren’t allowed to be to go in the closet with the safe, and when I’d get the guns out to go shooting together, when they were 8 to 13 or so, they weren’t even allowed in the room with the safe while I was getting things ready. So we did have a very rigid structure.
I also didn’t want to tempt them (in spite of them being very responsible - at least as far as the guns were concerned) - so I really did keep things locked up until they were about 16 ish. Then still locked up but I didn’t worry about it at all.
We began shooting both rifle and pistol when my youngest was about 7. Very controlled, they didn’t get to load, just got to practice the very basics of shooting, sight picture, breathing, squeezing, memorizing and practicing the big three safety rules. Stayed right on them physically at all times, and any time they started on something new, loaded one round at a time for a while until they and I were both comfortable they wouldn’t lose control of the gun or move foolishly. (I use the same techniques with any new shooters I’m helping get started). I don’t remember when they bought their own first guns, but they were stored in the safe too - but they had access to the keys.
Both men turned into great shots, and one of my sons was a member of his unit’s service multi-gun competitive shooting squad. They turned out well - for which I’m grateful. (I blame their mom, although I do take credit for their shooting and shooting safety).
Thoughts about families with young kids: I agree wholeheartedly that kids are kids, and they are even more kids when in groups of two or more. But they can be trained starting very early. As any parent knows they are also completely individuals - one is not the other, and responsibility varies (and varies by topic or domain, too). These days there are many state and sometimes local laws that one has to be aware of - such as gun storage regulations, etc., but there are no locks and bars that will keep an irresponsible or highly motivated child safe from him or her self. So we take the required steps - sensitive to the capacities of each child.
A gun safe is essential - and depending on the child, the locking mechanism might need to be a bit more robust than for another child. But that’s an area of responsibility too - and they can be “graded” on it.
I believe also that there are areas of responsibility in which a parent might compromise: cleaning your room and keeping it clean has some leeway (MAYBE) - but with the guns there is no leeway at all. It’s 100% or nothing. It can be worked out.
That said, we have had many hours and a great deal of fun learning to shoot and shooting together. One of my sons regularly outshoots me with pistols, both are matching me with rifles. I do a bit better on the skeet range, but it’s just a matter of practice. But all of us (and Mom) are safe shooters.
Thanks USCCA (and NRA) for sound safety training and practices. May all of the USCCA families become truly safe shooting families!