Failure to adhere to gun safety recommendations may lead to avoidable accidents and even fatalities. Nearly 2 million children live in households with unlocked, loaded guns.
It’s the nightmare scenario, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2019 there were almost 250 unintended shootings by children that caused more than 100 deaths.
Firearm owners have a responsibility to take the necessary precautions to keep others, especially children, safe. Follow these precautionary steps to ensure the safety of those in your home.
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Children are observant and curious, and pick up on what they see at home as well as in TV shows, movies and video games. Whether or not they own guns, parents or guardians should demystify guns as well as communicate their very real dangers to children. Seattle Children’s Hospital recommends adults explain that guns are not toys and that firearms and other weapons can seriously injure or kill people.
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There’s no exact age at which adults should start talking to children about guns, but it’s likely younger than one might think. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, children as young as 3 years old can be strong enough to pull the trigger of a handgun. A good rule of thumb is to start talking about guns when a child shows awareness of or interest in them.
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Your actions speak louder than words as a parent or adult authority figure, and children will be watching and learning from you. Practicing proper gun safety yourself will help set the standard for kids, according to the State of California Department of Justice.
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The No. 1 safety rule to teach children is to not touch guns, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rifle Association. Reinforce that if they find a firearm, they should leave it alone and go tell an adult right away.
There are plenty of online resources and training available for adults who don’t know where to start or how to appropriately talk about gun safety with a child. Project ChildSafe is a program of the National Shooting Sports Foundation that provides safety education and free firearm safety kits. The National Rifle Association of America also has the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program for Pre-K through 4th graders.
While it’s wise to train children on what to do around firearms, research has shown that education ultimately does little to prevent accidents, according to Michigan Health. No matter how often they've been told or how many gun safety courses they’ve taken, children who encounter a gun cannot be trusted to leave it alone, according to research by Rutgers University. So no matter how knowledgeable or responsible a child may seem, you still need to keep firearms locked up in a cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage case.
Unfortunately many adults have unrealistic ideas about gun safety and believe simply hiding a firearm in a drawer or closet is enough. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, 75% of children who live in homes with guns know where they are stored. And per Michigan Medicine, 1 in 3 children have handled a firearm in the home, many without a parent’s knowledge.
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Along with storing firearms in a secure location, gun owners should hide the keys to the locked storage from children. If you have a safe or case with a combination that you write down, that should be hidden as well.
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To eliminate the problem of hiding physical keys, gun owners should consider getting keyless locking devices such as those that open with a combination, code or fingerprint.
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Firearms should also be unloaded before being stored in a locked location. If you’re out hunting or doing target practice near children, always unload your firearm before setting it down, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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While some children might be comfortable handling or shooting firearms, you should still never leave children unsupervised with a gun, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
On top of unloading any firearms before storing them, gun owners should also lock away ammunition as well in a place separate from the guns.
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Another option is to disassemble any guns so that they cannot be used, such as removing the pistol slide on a handgun. Once disassembled, the parts should be securely stored in separate locations.
An additional safety precaution to follow to keep kids safe is using a gun lock. Cable or trigger locks render firearms inoperable. These should be used in addition to rather than as a substitute for locked storage, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Project ChildSafe.
When transporting firearms in a vehicle, they should also be properly secured in a locked compartment, such as a gun vault. According to Project ChildSafe, the glove compartment or center console of a car or truck, even if lockable, is not a secure storage location. Instead, gun owners should opt for a gun case, lock box or a vault or safe specifically designed to fit into a vehicle.
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For parents or guardians teaching children how to use guns, consider practicing proper gun safety at home using foam dart guns or other toy guns. This is a safe way for them to practice the basics such as keeping firearms pointed in a safe direction and handling all firearms as if they are loaded.
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One skill parents must master is patience because kids rarely learn or understand something the first time you explain it. Just like practicing their multiplication tables, kids will need to practice recalling the important safety tips you teach them or that they learn in a gun safety course. Quiz kids regularly about the basic rules of handling a gun and gun safety.
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There is emerging firearm technology that makes a gun inoperable to anyone not authorized to use it. These are marketed as “smart” or “childproof” guns, and while they do have features with the potential to keep guns more secure, they are not foolproof and should still be treated with the same caution as other firearms in the home, according to Michigan Medicine.
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Before a child goes to a friend or relative’s house for the first time, it's important to know if there are guns in the home, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It may feel uncomfortable or like a breach of etiquette to ask, but most people will understand that it’s a simple matter of safety.
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On top of asking if there are guns in the home, another important question to ask is how they are stored. The ASK Campaign recommends that along with other questions about pets, allergies, etc. that parents or guardians ask: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” If you are uncomfortable with the safety of someone else’s home, invite them or their children to come to your house instead.
Gun owners who are around teenagers should not loosen restrictions when it comes to gun safety. According to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, parents of teens are less likely to store firearms safely. However, teens still have poor impulse control and are at greater risk of attempting suicide.
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Adults should still practice gun safety measures even if no children are living in the household. Maintain these precautions to be prepared in case a neighbor’s kid, grandchild or any other child visits.
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To keep children safe, a gun owner might need to make the call to remove firearms from their home entirely. If gun owners cannot properly secure them, they should store them outside the home, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, per the National Shooting Sports Foundation, people should temporarily keep any guns and ammunition off-site if someone in their household is in emotional crisis, experiencing mental health issues or is at risk of suicide.
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