It should go without saying that buying your child their very first gun should not be a rushed process. Your child's first gun will influence their safety and success on the range, both of which will contribute to their overall enthusiasm for shooting. A well thought out decision and choice of a first gun is the difference between a one-time outing and a well-developed interest in firearms.
Below handguns, rifles, and shotguns are discussed in length as they apply to children. This information will help you sort through the characteristics of each individual gun, so that you can weigh the pros and cons of each from a child's perspective. Above all, it is important to remember that your child's first gun doesn't have to be the biggest and best around. Rather, it should be one that is fun to handful and easy to use so that your child wants to go shooting with you time after time again in the future.
Perhaps the hardest type of gun to learn to shoot accurately, handguns are generally not the best type of gun to start your child out with, especially if they are younger than twelve years old. If you are set on a handgun, then it is essential to follow the three L's when making a decision. These are "lightweight," "light trigger pull," and "low recoil." A beginner's biggest problem when using a handgun for the first time is generally a heavy gun with a strong recoil. Models like the .22 Long Rifle semi-auto pistol are a great bet. Many well-trusted manufacturers including Neo, Browning Buck Mark, and Beretta U22 produce this model.
For kids just learning to shoot, rifles are almost always a great bet. In fact, the .22 rifle is one of the easiest to shoot and easiest to aim guns on the market. It has established itself as a great first gun for children of all ages. Better yet, for parents at least, is that ammunition and the guns themselves are plentiful and affordable. Examples of great rifles for beginning shooters include the single-shot Savage Rascal, the semi-auto carbine Ruger 10/22, and the classic lever-action Henry Repeating Arms H001. The specific one that you choose will depend on the kind of shooting you plan on doing and your child's interest level in the sport.
Shooting a shotgun is very different from shooting the other types of guns on this list. Though they can be great guns for children to learn on, they need to be used in a completely different way. Learning to shoot on a handgun or rifle requires a still and steady hand while shotgun shooting requires a smooth swinging motion (as they are used for shooting clay sporting pigeons or hunting birds like waterfowl). Focus your search on guns with the right length-of-pull in the shoulder stock along with a shortened barrel to make swinging the gun and successfully hitting targets easier for your youngster. Mossberg, Remington, and Winchester all manufacturer youth shotguns that have been trimmed down to suit younger shooters.
In addition to size, it is essential to select a shotgun for your child that doesn't produce a whole lot of recoil. This is where gauge comes in handy. 12-gauge shotguns, popular among adult shooters, produce far too much recoil for most kids. Though the .410 has the lowest level of recoil it also reduces accuracy and is a gun that most kids outgrow quickly. A 20-gauge is likely your best bet as it produces a manageable level of recoil with a good and solid shot.
Buying your child their very first gun isn't the most difficult thing in the world but it shouldn't be a hasty process either. You need to gauge their interest level and look at a wide variety of different guns with them. More importantly than gun selection, however, is providing positive practice. Start with large, close targets and don't hammer in the details (other than safety). This will provide a fun experience that will keep your children enthusiastic about guns for years to come. It doesn't pay to buy your kid a gun if you're going to make the shooting experience one that they dread to repeat.