Having a firearm in the home can be a significant risk factor for injury and death in children. The decision to keep a firearm in the home is very serious and one that should not be made lightly. If you choose to keep a gun you must become fully aware about the risks of firearms to your family and others who visit your home.
Although firearm related injuries peak in adolescence, they can affect younger children and infants as well. Younger children are most likely to be injured, either shooting themselves or a playmate, after playing with a gun that they found in the home, not realizing that the gun is real or that it’s loaded.
It is estimated that there are guns in half the homes in the United States. Although most of these guns are purchased for safety reasons, a firearm at home is much more likely to injure or kill a family member or friend than an intruder.
Let’s look at some statistics:
- Every seven and a half hours a child or teen is killed by a gun by either accident or suicide.
- From 1995 to 2000 an average of 4 to 5 children died every day in nonhomicide firearm incidents.
- From 1995 to 2000, more than 1,790 children were killed in firearm accidents.
- In each of the last 10 years an average of 1,323 kids committed suicide with a firearm; 155 were under 15 years of age.
- In 2001, there were 14,571 kids injured by a firearm.
- In 2001, 13,572 kids were injured by BB/pellet guns.
- 40% of American households have guns
- 34% of children in American homes live in homes with at least one firearm
- Among homes with children and firearms
- 28% do not always keep guns locked in a secure place
- 25% only “occasionally” lock and store the bullets separate from the gun
- 48% do not regularly make sure that guns are equipped with child safety and trigger locks
- In 30% of hand gun owning homes, the gun was stored unlocked and loaded at the time of the survey
- In 72% of unintentional deaths and injuries, suicide and suicide attempts, the firearm was stored in the residence of the victim — 47% of high school kids and 22% of middle school kids said they could get a gun
- 6% of high school kids said they had carried a gun to school within the last 30 days
- 72% of parents think their kids would not handle a gun without their permission
The risks to our children from unsafe gun storage practices are significant. Without any exaggeration, the way a gun is stored can make the difference between life and death. Tragedies occur on a daily basis involving unlocked firearms that are easily accessible to young people, either at their own homes or the homes of their relatives or neighbors. These tragedies could very well of had been avoided if the adult in the home had taken the time to unload the gun and store it in a locked container along with the guns ammunitions.
Children have a natural curiosity, especially when it comes to guns. Parents should not lull themselves into a false sense of security on this matter, even if they have spoken to their children about guns. Judy Shaw of Boston’s Children’s Hospital says, “Any small child who picks up a gun…is going to put a finger in the trigger and click it.” All parents must take common sense steps to protect children, both by talking to them about guns and by unloading and locking all guns so that a child or teen cannot access them without direct adult supervision.
To ensure the safety of children, all gun owners should:
- unload and lock up their guns
- lock and store ammunition separately
- hide keys where children are unable to find them
There are a variety of ways and devices for securing your firearm. Though safes seem to provide the most security, many people prefer locks, which are often available for free or for a small cost.
There are three good places to start looking for a gun-lock distribution program in your area:
- your local police department
- your local SAFE KIDS Coalition. To find the closest one to you call 202-662-0660 or click on the following link http://www.safekids.org/state_display.cfm
- Project Homesafe, a national gun-lock distribution program. Call 800-726-6444 to see if there’s a Home Safe program in your area.
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Social and Health Services.
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