Obviously, the primary and most common concern is that the kids might somehow get a hold of your gun. It’s a legitimate worry – about 600-800 accidental child shootings happen each year, killing around 175 kids. Around one-quarter of the victims under age 14 accidentally shot themselves. Yet these statistics almost certainly underestimate the true danger, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, since many such deaths are erroneously labeled as homicides on official paperwork. (Moninger, 2013) Precious lives lost all because the kids got hold of a gun and started playing with it. This doesn’t even take into consideration the thousands of other cases that aren’t reported – situations where the bullet (graciously) strikes something benign as opposed to the flesh of a human. Or the several thousand accidental shootings of children per year where the triggerman (or woman) is an adult.
Eighty-nine percent of accidental firearms-related injuries to children happen in homes, according to a 1996 study in JAMA Pediatrics. (Scientific American, 2015) These stories are as numerous as they are tragic, and we could print an entire book on the stories just from this year alone. Here is a quick sampling:
In Craig, Colorado, a 2-year-old girl was shot by her 4-year-old brother with a large-caliber handgun after the boy discovered his parents’ weapon. (USA Today, 10-7-2010, p. 7A) In Killeen, Texas, a 4-year-old found his mother’s gun and fatally shot his 3-year-old brother in their home. (USA Today, 2-23-2012, p. 4A) Another 4-year-old in Mason City, Iowa, found a handgun in his dad’s truck and picked it up. The weapon fired, hitting his dad in the knee. (USA Today, 2-29-2012, p. 7A) Anthony Senatore found himself charged with abusive negligence, after his 4-year-old found an unsecured gun in the home and used it to shoot and kill his 6-year-old friend. (CNN News, May 14, 2013)
A 5-year-old boy shot and killed his sister with his very own gun that had been given to him as a birthday gift. The mother had stepped outside for a few seconds; just long enough for the boy to retrieve the .22 caliber rifle and shoot his two-year-old sister. The family didn’t think the gun was loaded. (CNN News, May 2, 2013) In Little Rock, Arkansas, a 7-year-old boy died after apparently shooting himself in the chest with a gun he found in the family vehicle. It happened while his parents were signing paperwork at a rental office. They returned to find him shot. (USA Today, 3-14-2012, p. 4A)
In Gilbert, Arizona, police officer Jesus Ramirez received “corrective action” after his 10-year-old son accidentally shot his 12-year-old sister in the shoulder with his father’s service weapon. He had left the Glock in a holster on the rear seat of his unmarked police car. (USA Today, 5-8-2012, p. 6A) The 7-year-old daughter of a Washington State police officer died after being shot by her younger sibling, who found a loaded gun in the family’s van. The shooting occurred inside the vehicle as her parents were standing nearby. (Bacon, 3-12-2012) In Seattle, Washington, a 3-year-old boy fatally shot himself with a gun he found in a car while his family stopped for gas in Tacoma. It was the third recent shooting by a child in the area. “It’s incredible in light of the other ones,” said Tacoma Police officer Naveed Benjamin. “You would think people would take more care, not less.” (USA Today, 3-15-2012, p. 5A)
Another man brought a gun into his home for self-defense. He was a reformed gang member who had testified against his former colleagues, and so he feared reprisal. But rather than protecting his family, his decision to bring a gun into the house destroyed it. Despite keeping the gun high on a fridge and warning his boys not to play with it, it seems the allure was too much to resist. His 6-year-old shot and killed his 3-year-old brother during a game of cops and robbers. (CNN News, 10-19-2015)
Often times, the kids know better than to be playing with a gun, but their curiosity gets the better of them. They also probably know not to make a mess, but how many times has that happened? Other times, they discover the weapon and aren’t sure if it’s real. They explore it to find out or assume it is a toy (C’mon, who leaves real guns lying around?), and an accidental shooting occurs in the process. Careless gun owners pose a significant danger to children – not just their own, but others as well. Nearly every other day in America, a child is accidentally shot and killed…a life-death risk on the order of around 600 times the threat that registered sex-offenders pose. (NGC, 10-5-09) In other words, a gun owner is far, far more dangerous to your child than those sex-offenders people work so hard at keeping out of their community. You might also consider this: If you purchase a gun, YOU are far more likely to end up killing your child than are any of the registered sex-offenders nearby.
Why Safety & Protection Are Incompatible
The catch 22 is that if you’re keeping a gun for protection, then in order for it to work for protection it needs to be easily accessible. That means putting your kids at risk, (a higher risk than what is posed by community predators) in which case you won’t need to worry about any criminals, because you’re far more of a dangerous person to them than they are. Or you must keep the kids safe, which means locking both the gun and its ammunition safely away, which mean that it won’t be readily accessible. And don’t forget – bullets can be just as dangerous without a gun. As a child, a friend of mine shot himself through the hand while holding a bullet he had found on the street up to a candle to look at it. The same can happen while holding a cartridge up to a light or other heated surface, or if the firing strike is banged against something hard.