As any parent knows, kids are naturally curious. They want to open doors, sift through drawers and discover new hiding spots inside cabinets and closets. That's why if you keep a gun in the home, storing that gun safely must be at the top of your childproofing list.
"If you keep a gun in the home, restricting access to the gun is the number one thing you can do to keep kids safe from unintentional or intentional shootings," says Marisa Abbe, Ph.D., CPSTI, Manager of Injury Prevention at Children's Health℠. "Storing the gun safely can reduce the chance of a shooting by 70-73%."
Dr. Abbe shares more about the importance of gun safety and how parents can protect kids at home.
What are the statistics on children and gun safety?
Firearm injuries are the second leading cause of death from unintentional injury among children in the United States. Of those deaths, younger children (ages 2-10) are more likely to fall victim to unintentional shootings.
"Some parents may not worry about their toddlers accessing a gun in the home. But children as young as 3-years-old have the strength to pull a trigger," Dr. Abbe says.
For older kids, including pre-teens and teens, firearm deaths are typically tied to a homicide or suicide. In 2019, suicide became the number one cause of death in young people ages 11-24, surpassing car crashes for the first time.
"We're seeing higher rates of suicide among younger kids, and a lot of that is driven by easy access to firearms," Dr. Abbe says.
Gun safety tips for parents
When it comes to guns and children, it's important to remember that "hidden doesn't mean safe."
"Kids are naturally curious. They're going to find the gun if you store it in a drawer or a closet," Dr. Abbe says. "It's up to the adult to make sure the gun is locked up to keep everyone safe."
To protect your family, use the triple safe method for gun storage:
- Keep the gun locked
- Keep the gun unloaded
- Store ammunition (bullets) in a different spot from where you keep the gun
There are many options available for gun safes, including combination, key lock and biometric safes that can only open with a fingerprint. Cable gun locks can be used across a variety of guns and prevent the gun from being fired by blocking the barrel. Trigger locks go over the gun's trigger to prevent it from being fired and should never be used with loaded guns. Gun safes, while more expensive, can provide the best protection to keep your children safe. Check to see which option may be best for your situation.
It's also crucial to take gun safety classes when you purchase a firearm, Dr. Abbe adds. These classes can teach adults how to properly maintain, clean and store firearms so family members are safe.
If someone in your house is going through a mental health crisis where they may be at risk for hurting themselves or others, Dr. Abbe recommends storing the gun outside the home temporarily. You can reach out to a trusted friend or relative who can keep the gun safe in their home. Local gun ranges may also offer storage.
Why you should ask about guns ahead of playdates
In Texas, it's estimated that up to half of all homes have a gun and nearly a third of those guns are not stored properly. Although your family may take gun safety precautions, it's important to ask other parents if they do the same.
If your child is going over to a new friend's house, make sure to ask the parents if they have guns in the home and, if they do, how they store the guns. This conversation can be awkward, but it's still essential for the safety of your child, their friend and the friend's family. Dr. Abbe recommends easing into the topic by adding it to your list of typical checks you do before dropping off your child.
"Roll it into the conversation with other things you ask about, such as allergies, booster seats and who will be watching the kids," Dr. Abbe says. "Remind them that kids are curious and can get into everything."
Talking to kids about gun safety
Whether you have a gun in your home or not, it's crucial to teach your children about gun safety. If kids encounter a gun, they should:
- Stop. Don't touch the gun
- Walk away
- Tell an adult right away
While it's important to communicate this message, simply talking to kids about gun safety is not enough. If you have a gun in your home, storing it properly is the best way to keep your family safe.
"Guns are an extremely high-risk item in the home and we need to protect children using the triple safe method," Dr. Abbe says. "This isn't about the right to own a gun. It's about keeping your family safe from that gun."
The Children's Health Injury Prevention team is here to help make life better – and safer – for children. If you have any questions about child gun safety or other injury prevention programs, call us at 214-456-1870 to learn more.