Teenager’s Guide to Firearm Safety

Owning a gun
Encountering a gun
Be Prepared
If you find a gun
If you see someone with a gun
If someone discharges a gun in school
Preventing School Shootings: The Warning Signs
Access to weapons
Your Responsibilities
Make time for your friends
Don’t be a bystander
Never threaten anybody
Keep adults informed
Establish a watchdog group


The gun violence that you see on television and in movies is not real. Does this sound obvious? It should. Even so, there are teenagers (and even some adults) who don’t really understand the difference. Today’s movies and television shows look so realistic, that for many people they blur the line between fantasy and reality. All too often, these people see actors using guns in an irresponsible manner, but very rarely do they see the negative consequences that result from that inappropriate behavior.

In real life, if you mishandle a gun, somebody is going to get hurt or even killed. That is the reality. If you use a gun to intentionally hurt somebody, you could go to prison for the rest of your life. That is the reality. Guns are not toys, and they must never be treated as though they are.

Owning a gun is a right – but not for everyone. Certain categories of people are not allowed to buy or own a gun. This includes people under a certain age. The laws on gun ownership for young people are governed by State and Federal law, and they vary widely. If you would like more information regarding your state’s regulations, go to this page on gun laws.

Owning a Gun

If you choose to own a gun and are old enough and otherwise eligible, you must do so responsibly. This means keeping and using the gun safely, and keeping it out of the hands of younger children, burglars or anyone who does not understand firearms safety.

We highly recommend that you enroll in a gun safety class. There is no way to own a gun safely without understanding how it works and how it should be maintained.

Encountering a Gun

Guns and schools don’t mix. Ever. Yet each year, more than 40,000 students bring guns to school. Also, 14 million families own guns, so chances are pretty good that some of your friends live with guns in the home. This means that there is a possibility that you will encounter a gun, in your school or elsewhere. If this happens, you should be prepared to handle the situation so that you will not put yourself or anyone else in danger.

Be Prepared

As you read through these scenarios, think about what you would do in the each of the situations. It may seem silly, but mentally preparing yourself ahead of time is the best way to make sure you don’t make a foolish decision under pressure.

What Do You Do If You Find a Gun?
ScenarioWhat do you do if you and your friends find a gun? What if you are by yourself?
DiscussionIf you find a gun, do not touch it. Notify an adult, who can confiscate the firearm and then turn it over to the police. Getting an adult may be as simple as calling out to a passerby, it may mean using a cell phone to call the police, or it may mean staying with the gun while a friend goes to get help. If you are alone, you may have to leave the gun where it is and go get help yourself. If there are younger children in the area, you should tell them that you have an emergency and send them to get an adult while you stay with the gun.
RuleTell an adult and do not touch the gun!
What Do You Do If You See Somebody with a Gun?
ScenarioWhat if you see someone showing off a gun to their friends, or if you see the gun in somebody’s locker or in somebody’s backpack?
DiscussionIt is illegal for any student to bring a gun to school, and it puts you and everybody else needlessly in danger, regardless of whether the student intends to use the gun or not. Loaded guns can and doaccidentally discharge. The risk is much greater when the gun is jostling around in a backpack, where the safety can easily be dislodged and the trigger pulled by items being yanked in and out of the bag all day long.
RuleTell an adult! There is no exception to this rule.
What If Someone Discharges a Gun In School?
ScenarioWhat would you do if a shooting took place in your school?
DiscussionDespite the high-profile nature of school shootings, they are, thankfully, rare. Still, it is important to think about how you would react to a school shooting, because you would only have a couple of seconds to react and your natural reaction would be panic.Many schools have already established emergency procedures for you to follow in the event of a shooting. If your school has such a plan, familiarize yourself with the drill.
RulesIf your school doesn’t have a drill then there are certain rules that you should follow:If you are in the immediate vicinity of the shooting (usually a common area like a cafeteria, hallway, or lobby), move as far away as possible. Leave the building if possible, or duck into a nearby classroom. Since every school is different, you have to figure out the safest route. This is why you have to plan ahead. In the heat of the moment, you will not have time to weigh your options. If you’re not sure of the best escape route, talk it over with a teacher or a local police officer who is familiar with your school’s layout.If you are in a classroom when the shooting occurs, close the doors, lock them if you can, and barricade the doors with desks and chairs so that nobody can enter.Do not try to leave the room until your teacher gives you permission to do so, or unless you are instructed by police officers to evacuate the building.

Preventing School Shootings: The Warning Signs

Most school shootings are not spur-of-the-moment events. In fact, they are almost always planned in advance. The majority of shooters get their initial “inspiration” more than two weeks prior to the attack itself, and just as many spend at least two days prior to the attack working out the details. Although this is a small window of opportunity, most school shooters do provide warning signs. If you know what those signs are, an intervention may be possible.

However, it cannot be stressed enough that recognizing these signs is useless unless you report them to an adult immediately. The U. S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center conducted a study of 37 school shootings. They found that more than 30 of the shooters told at least one peer about their plans, but only two of those peers relayed that information to an adult.

Contrary to media hype, school shooters do not fit a certain “profile.” The kid in the trench coat is no more a threat than the kid in the football jersey. The kid without friends is no more a threat than the kid who is friends with everybody. Stereotypes cannot and do not predict who is at risk of becoming a school shooter. However, there are certain behavioral “risk factors” that most school shooters exhibit before their attack that you can watch out for. If you observe any of the following, tell an adult. Remember, this is not about getting your friend in trouble. It’s about getting them help. In reality, you are probably saving their life.


Most school shooters do not directly threaten the people they intend to harm. However, a majority of them do discuss their intentions with other students, friends, or siblings, and many of them discuss these plans with more than one person. These discussions may vary in detail, but any references to killing themselves, killing another person, making a “hit list,” or attacking a school are immediate cause for concern.
Never assume that these are just jokes.

Access to Weapons

Any person asking around about how they can get a gun or how they can make an explosive device is an obvious threat. However, the majority of school shooters obtain their guns from their own home or from the home of a relative, so they may not have to ask these questions. If that is the case, you need to look for signs that they are intending to use the gun, that they have attempted to access the gun, or that they already have obtained the gun. Keep in mind, that simply having a gun in one’s home does not automatically make them a threat. It is only a danger when the firearm is accessible to somebody who has shown an interest in using the gun illegally or irresponsibly.


Some school shooters warn their friends not to be in a specific place at a certain time. Since the victims of school shootings are rarely the intended targets, school shooters may take this precaution to make sure that their friends do not get hurt by accident. There also have been instances where shooters have told friends where to position themselves so that they can watch the “event” unfold without putting themselves in danger.

If a friend of yours shows any of these behaviors, your natural reaction might be to rationalize the behavior. You may try to convince yourself that your friend is just kidding, or that they are not capable of doing something like that. This is not your decision to make. Regardless of whether or not you think your friend is a real threat, you must tell an adult what you know.

You also should keep in mind that potential school shooters may tell different people different things. You may hear them make a threat, while somebody else may know that the same person has made attempts to get a hold of a gun. Independently, these actions may not seem important, but together they take on a whole new meaning. However, as long as you both report what you know to school officials, those officials can take the appropriate steps to ensure that your friend is not actually a threat, or if they are, they can get them the help that they need. Because if a friend of yours is even contemplating using a gun to solve their problems, then your friend does need help.

Your Responsibilities

Your role in preventing violence in schools does not end with watching for warning signs. Safe schools are the result of strong communities, where everyone looks out for the well-being of others. For example:

Make Time for Your Friends

The culture we live in is becoming increasingly individualistic. People are so busy trying to manage the stress in their own life that they have less and less time to lend somebody else a hand. There are some people who are fiercely independent by nature and can handle most situations by themselves, but the majority of people cannot function like that. Needing help from others is completely normal, but a lot of people are afraid to ask for help because they fear being perceived as weak. This is why it is important that you make the effort to ensure that the people around you do not feel stranded. No matter how lonely they feel, they may not be able to ask you or anybody else for help.

Feelings of isolation often lead to depression, which may in turn become a catalyst for violent outbursts. This whole progression is avoidable just by taking a few minutes out of your day to check up on your friends and make sure that they’re doing all right.

Don’t be a Bystander

If you see other students being picked on or bullied, do something about it. If you don’t want to get involved personally, find a teacher and let them handle the matter. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the situation. Teenagers that are bullied are more likely to resort to violence as a means of exacting revenge. Showing these kids that you care enough to look out for them, even if you don’t really know them, can make a huge difference.

Never Threaten Anybody (Even as a Joke)

Schools have become zero-tolerance zones, and this includes cracking down on students who make jokes about wanting to “make somebody sorry” or plans to “Columbine” the school. School officials have to take seriously anything that can be construed as a threat. So if you ever have the urge to make that kind of a comment, do everybody a favor and don’t

Keep Adults Informed

It’s important that you have at least one adult with whom you feel comfortable discussing things that are going on around you. This can be a parent, a teacher, a guidance counselor – anyone you know you can turn to if you have a problem or even if you just want to vent about everyday pressures you experience. Parents and teachers want to help you, but often they don’t know how to approach you. That is why it is important that you make an effort to let them into your life. It sounds corny, but the reality is that the more open and honest you are with your parents and teachers, the more they will understand you and the less likely they are to be judgmental of the choices you make.

Also, as a student, you are far more in tune with what is going on in the student body than any adult could ever be. If someone is planning any form of school violence, you are much more likely to see the warning signs before a parent or teacher would. This is why you must always discuss any possible threats with an adult. Things that are plainly obvious to you may not be to an adult. Never assume that because you know what’s going on that everybody else does too.

Establish a Watchdog Group

The best way to maintain a safe community is to get the people around you involved. Several organizations help students like you establish community-based groups that are designed to make schools safer. A good place to start is the National Crime Prevention Council’s safe schools initiative. This encourages students, parents, teachers, law enforcement officers, businesses, and faith-based organizations to come together to create an educational network that can tackle the issue of youth violence in a way that meets the specific needs of your community.

Other alternatives include peer mediation programs, where teens teach other teens how to settle arguments without violence. There are peer counseling programs, where older students have the opportunity to mentor younger students. And there are teen courts, where students who are involved in conflicts can turn matters over to a jury of their peers for resolution. There are plenty of options out there. All you have to do is find a program that addresses the needs of your community.

You also may want to consider encouraging your school to set up a crisis hotline. These anonymous hotlines provide students with a 1-800 number that they can call to report potential threats. Upon receiving a call, an operator notifies the appropriate school official who is then responsible for investigating all allegations. Many of these hotline programs also have websites, where students can send anonymous e-mails if they prefer to submit their report online. Obviously, the privacy afforded by these hotlines can really help open up communication between students and administrators.

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