Between suicides, homicides, and firearm accidents, guns take the lives of more than 3100 children each year. Yet this doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. Like most safety issues, for every actual death there are at least 3-times as many injuries. Many of these gunshot wounds are debilitating, permanently crippling a child or rendering them a vegetable.
As of 2015, firearm related deaths will overtake car accidents in the U.S. and become a bigger public safety concern than car crashes. So it’s absolutely vital families take some precautions to address this threat.
If your family keeps a gun for self-protection
We would strongly discourage families from keeping a loaded weapon around for personal protection. Parents who do this instantly become much more dangerous to their children than anyone in the outside world. In fact, the odds of a gun being used for tragic purposes versus the likelihood of using it in a legitimate case of self-defense are around 941 to 1. These are odds no parent should take. If they made a gun with 941 chambers, you wouldn’t load it with 940 bullets and then proceed to play Russian roulette with your child’s life. Yet this is precisely what families do when they keep loaded weapons for “self-protection.” (See our book: Guns for Protection?)
Securing your firearms to keep them away from children
“Young children are curious, and are often unable to remember or follow safety rules. Older children and teens naturally tend to be moody and impulsive. When you combine these traits with access to guns, the consequences can be tragic and permanent.”
-Marion Burton, M.D., former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics
If your family owns a firearm, simply telling kids to stay away from it is not enough. A recent study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that 39% of kids in gun-owner households knew where their parents stored these weapons, and 22% (36% of boys, 12% of girls) admitted to handling these weapons despite adult warnings not to do so. Age didn’t seem to matter – five-year-olds were just as likely to report handling the guns as were 14-year-olds. (Power, 2013) Parents, however, were entirely clueless: 30% assumed their children didn’t know where they kept their guns, and those kids who reported handling a gun did so almost completely unbeknownst to their parents. (Moninger, 2013) If your guns aren’t properly secured, you’re endangering children – both your own and others throughout the neighborhood.
Never assume that telling kids not to touch a gun is enough. “Even children who grow up around guns can’t be trusted to do the right thing,” says Mylissa Bellamy, who lost her 11-year-old son Mathew to a gun accident. Even though Mathew had been taught gun safety since he was three, when he and a 12-year-old friend found a hunting rifle laying on the bed of a friend’s grandparent’s house, the two couldn’t help but investigate. His friend picked up the gun first and handed it to Mathew. As he did so, the rifle fired, hitting Mathew square in the chest. “They’re still just curious kids,” says Mylissa. “Adults are the ones who need to be responsible.” (Moninger, 2013)
- Aim for redundancy in your precautions. A gun locked inside a gun safe is good; an unloaded gun locked inside a gun safe with a separate trigger lock is better. It may seem excessive, but kids have been known to circumvent one safety measure. For example, they often discover or correctly guess the combination to a gun safe. This way if they defeat one measure, you have another in place. Parents also goof up. If a parent accidentally leaves the safe unlatched, having trigger locks on all the guns adds another layer of protection.
- Attach a steel safety device to the trigger or hammer that will prevent the gun from firing.
- If possible, store guns and ammunition in separate places, though ammunition should also be kept in some type of locked cabinet.
- Consult a dealer about outfitting the gun with a magnetic system or other gun safety device that prevents it from firing unless the owner pulls the trigger. Just keep in mind that these systems aren’t foolproof.
- DO NOT buy brightly colored firearms or other weapons that look like toys, something we’ll discuss in the next section.
Talking to other parents about guns
“We took the right steps to keep guns away from our kids and their friends. It never occurred to us to ask others whether they did the same.”
– Mylissa Bellamy (Moninger, 2013)
Parents should get in the habit of asking others if they own guns and how those guns are secured whenever visiting someone else’s house.
Additional gun safety tips for everyone
Before play-dates, ask if there’s a gun in the house, and if so, how it is secured. Not only can this protect your children, but if everyone started asking this, it would provide regular reminders that might improve the safety of all children.
It may be awkward at first, but “If an adult is offended by questions about your child’s safety,” says Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “you may want to consider whether that home is a place you want your child to play.” (Moninger, 2013)
* You can contact the Mathew Bellamy Project (1-843-602-4952), an organization that provides free gun safety locks to anyone who calls.