Things to know if you get a BB gun from Santa

Ralphie was lucky. If not for his glasses he may have shot his eye out.

The boy from the movie "A Christmas Story" who wanted only "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock" finally got his wish and about took himself out with the first shot.

If a BB gun, pellet gun or .22 rifle appears under the Christmas tree at your house tomorrow morning, here's how to prevent eye, and other, injuries.

"The No. 1 rule for all guns is to always point the muzzle in a safe direction," said Verl Hanchett, who has been teaching Hunter Safety Courses in Utah for 39 years. "Treat every gun as if it may be loaded. As long as it is always pointed in a safe direction you won't hurt anybody."

Gary Cook, Hunter Education Coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, believes the key to safe firearm use rests with parents.

"Parental supervision is vitally important," Cook said. "We need to be sure kids are not just turned loose with firearms in hand. Firearms, even BB guns and pellet guns, need to be locked up and only used with adult supervision."

For example, and going back to the rule of never pointing a gun where you don't want to shoot, Cook won't let his children point even toy guns at inappropriate targets.

"My kids have Nerf guns, and we shot targets. We don't shoot our brother at my house," he said. "Allowing them to point some guns at people and not others can confuse them."

Which brings up another question frequently asked by parents: Should my child take Hunter Safety before they get a BB gun or a pellet gun?

Cook said as long as parents provide quality supervision and establish the initial steps of firearm safety that most can handle having a BB gun or pellet gun. Parents will probably want to wait to give their child a .22 rifle until they are at least going through Hunter Safety.

"Kids that have gone out and done a little bit of shooting do better when they get to the class," Cook said.

Through the years, Cook and Hanchett have seen a growing number of people, children and adults, who take Hunter Safety classes with no plans of ever hunting.

The idea is that children are likely to be exposed to firearms at some point in their lives and that the class will prepare them for the event.

"People are foolish to think their children will never be exposed to guns," Hanchett said. "It could happen at any time. What if your daughter is babysitting and she finds a gun? I really encourage everybody to take the classes. I don't care if you hunt or not."

Hanchett, who also served as a conservation officer for the DWR for 39 years, said kids see so much violence involving guns on television and in movies that they are disconnected with the true dangers of firearms.

"Many of them don't understand exactly what a gun can do," Hanchett said.

To illustrate the point, Hanchett fills a gallon milk jug with water and includes red cake coloring. He sets it on a post and shoots the jug.

"They are amazed at what happens. It is most effective when there is snow on the ground," he said. "Many of them make the comparison to a human head without me having to say anything."

Brett Prettyman is Outdoors Editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.

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