How proper gun storage can be life-saving
Every year, guns are unfortunately used to kill or injure thousands of Americans. In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported that gun-related injuries surpassed car accidents as the most common cause of death for children and teens. According to the AAP, many of these gun-related injuries and deaths are caused by unintentional shootings, suicides and homicides.
About one-third of families in the U.S. keep at least one gun in the home, which can increase the risk of gun-related injuries. If you decide to keep a gun at home, CHOC safety experts recommend being sure the gun is stored safely and that all family members know the rules about handling guns.
What is the safest way to store a gun?
If you have a gun at home, be sure to:
- Keep the gun unloaded and locked up in a cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage case — preferably in a place only known to parents, and out of reach of children.
- Lock the bullets in a place separate from the gun.
- Consider using a gun lock (a lock that makes the gun unable to fire).
- Hide the keys (or passcode) to the locked storage.
Why is proper gun storage so important for keeping kids safe?
Young children are curious. Even if you have talked to them many times about gun safety, they can’t truly understand how dangerous guns are. If they come across a loaded gun, they can accidentally hurt or kill themselves or someone else.
According to the AAP, kids and teens who live in a home with a gun have a four times higher risk of suicide than kids who live in homes without guns. In the past decade, 40% of the suicides committed by kids and teens involved guns. Nine out of 10 of those suicides were with guns that the victims accessed at their own homes or from a relative’s home.
People of any age who are depressed are at increased risk of suicide, and having a gun in the home may offer an easy way out for them. If someone in the family has depression or has had thoughts of suicide, all guns should be removed from the home. If the guns cannot be removed, it is even more important to store the gun unloaded and locked up with the bullets stored separately and keys hidden.
What are high-risk situations for firearm-related injuries in kids and teens?
Being aware of situations that can raise your child’s risk for unintentional firearm injury may help prevent one. High-risk situations include:
- Accessible firearms in the home. Parents often underestimate their child’s ability to gain access to the firearm in the house, or even the child’s ability to pull the trigger.
- Accessible firearms at another home. Even if your home does not have a firearm, your neighbor, friend, or relative may have an accessible firearm in the house.
- Teen boys. Most children killed by accident with firearms are boys. The AAP considers homes with teen boys at a higher risk for accidental injury and death from firearms.
- Ammunition and firearms stored together. When a firearm is locked away with ammunition or left loaded, it greatly raises the risk of accidental injury and death from firearms. About one-third to one-half of all firearm owners keep their firearms loaded and ready for use at least some of the time.
- Lack of supervision. Most accidental firearm shootings among children happen during times when children are not supervised, such as during the late afternoon, on weekends and during the summer months.
- Substance abuse at home. According to the AAP, homes with a higher risk of accidental injury and death from firearms include those in which someone is abusing alcohol or illegal drugs.
What about guns in the homes of family and friends?
If your child is going to someone’s house, it’s important to know if there are accessible guns in the home. It may feel awkward to ask, but most people will understand that you’re trying to protect your child.
You might try:
- “My child is pretty curious. Is there a gun or anything else dangerous he might get into?”
- “Is there an unlocked gun in your home?”
- “Our doctor recommended that I check to make sure there are no guns where my child plays. Do you have any guns at home?”
If you let your child play in a home where there is a gun, be sure that:
- The gun is stored unloaded and locked up.
- The bullets are locked up and stored separately.
- All keys to the locks are hidden.
What should kids understand about guns?
The AAP suggests explaining to your kids how a gun they see on television or a video game is different from a gun in real life. You can explain to them that “a gun, in real life, can really hurt people.”
Don’t assume that your kids don’t know that you keep a gun in your house. Be sure to openly and talk to them about it. Explain the gun’s purpose and how dangerous it could be if they were to touch it or play with it. Make sure they know that it is locked and secured.
If they see a gun either at home or at a friend’s house, teach your kids to follow these rules:
- Stop what they’re doing.
- Do not touch the gun, or allow anyone else to, even if it looks like a toy.
- Leave the area where the gun is.
- Tell an adult right away.
But if you choose to allow your children and teens to handle guns for recreation like hunting or target practice, it is very important that you:
- Store the gun unloaded and locked up. Do not give your child or teen the passcode or keys to get the gun out.
- Make sure that your child or teen understands that it is never OK to handle a gun without a responsible adult there.
- Teach your child or teen to assume a gun is loaded and never to point a gun at someone.
- Set a good example with your own safe gun handling practices. Keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it.
What else should parents know about guns?
Some people feel that keeping a gun at home will protect their family from an intruder. Unfortunately, a gun in the house is much more likely to hurt or kill a member of the household or a friend than an intruder.
A gun in the house also can be used to hurt or kill someone when:
- A child or teen finds the gun and accidentally pulls the trigger.
- A depressed teen or adult feels suicidal and there is a gun readily available.
- A family argument gets out of control.
- A family member or friend is mistaken for an intruder.
CHOC is proud to be among more than 160 health systems and children’s hospitals thousands of hospitals coming together in an effort to reduce deaths related to guns by advocating for proper and safe storage. Learn more about gun safety here.
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More children are affected by injuries than all other childhood illnesses and diseases combined. Most of these injuries are predictable and preventable. Here’s how to keep your child safe.