Parenting

Gun Safety Around Kids: A Lesson To Be Learned

A child may encounter a gun outside their parents’ home, at a friend’s house or under other circumstances that are beyond their control.

It is important for them to understand the rules and know what to do if they discover an unsecured gun.

Explain that real guns are different from toys and can hurt people. Remind them to always keep guns unloaded and locked up, separate from ammunition.

Don’t Go Snooping

The first safety skill kids should learn is how to behave in the presence of a safety threat and not touch it. Once a child knows this, the next skill is to escape from the situation—to put physical distance between them and the threat—usually by running away.

In most safety threat situations, the longer a kid is exposed to the threat, the more likely they are to be harmed by it.

Guns in Our Homes

It’s also important for parents to help their kids understand that they can’t just ignore the presence of guns in the homes of friends or family members. If a child is invited to a friend’s home, they should ask the parent if there are guns in the house and how they are stored.

Parents should normalize this conversation and treat it like they would any other questions about allergies, snacks or sunscreen when their children go to playdates at other families’ homes.

Storing Guns and Ammunition

Guns should always be kept in a safe place, locked and unloaded, where children and teens cannot access them or get the keys or combinations to lock boxes or gun safes.

This is the only way to truly reduce the risk of a firearm-related injury to a child or an adolescent—unintentional shooting, suicide or homicide.

To help ensure this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all guns in homes be stored safely—unloaded and locked up with the ammunition stored separately.

Since it’s not an everyday purchase as gun owners usually purchase their ammo in bulk, the accountability for storing it properly every once in a while when doing the purchase is highly mandatory.

Don’t Touch Guns but Touch Upon the Subject

Children are curious about things they don’t understand or think are “forbidden.” They’re also very good at finding what they’re looking for.

Talk It Out with Your Kids

Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown that even kids who have received gun safety training ignore what they’ve learned when they come across a firearm they shouldn’t touch in real life.

That’s why it is important to teach children about guns and safe gun handling before they ever have a chance to explore a weapon in the wild, such as at friends’ homes or in the woods.

Explain that real guns have sharp, pointed ends that can hurt or kill people and can shoot projectiles at very high speeds. Show them how to find someone they can trust and how to tell an adult about a gun they see, and practice these gun safety rules with them often.

Talk about the Storage Rules with Your Friends

Be sure to ask the adults you’re visiting with your kids about their guns and safe storage.

Just as you’d ask about pets, allergies or supervision before allowing your child to visit someone else’s home, make it a rule that they have to tell you if there are guns in the house and how they are stored.

This reduces the risk of accidental shooting and suicide by children and teens who find loaded, hidden firearms. Researches show that a proven community gun safety strategy — including laws limiting firearm access — decreases suicide and unintentional firearm injury in youth.

Avoid Talking About Guns in a Fun Way

Gun violence occupies a large chunk of the national conversation, and rightly so. It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about a shooting, homicide or suicide that resulted from a gun.

When it’s Not about Kids’ Game

Often, though, children and teens are the victims of routine gunfire that doesn’t grab headlines or earn fleeting policymaking attention. And while mass shootings get the most attention, it’s important to remember that nine kids and teens die each day from accidental firearm deaths in America.

Kids can’t be expected to stop playing with guns or even to understand how dangerous a gun is when they find one. Young children especially have a lot of curiosity, and if they’re able to access a gun, they’re likely to play with it.

When it’s just a Kids’ Game

Children’s fictional gun play is a developmentally appropriate part of their exploration of the world around them, and most experts agree that it isn’t linked to violent behavior.

However, parents should watch for red flags during their children’s fictional gun play that warrant a discussion with a pediatrician or child psychologist. These include:

  • Regularly “accidentally” hurting people or animals
  • Lack of empathy or remorse
  • Excessive aggression

If you have a gun in your home, it’s important to talk to your kids about guns and gun safety as soon as they start asking questions.

Avoid Bringing Guns to Other People’s Homes

The safest place for kids is a home without guns. Firearms are a fact of life in many homes, and research shows that storing firearms locked up and unloaded is the most effective way to prevent children from accidentally shooting themselves or others.

That’s why UChicago Medicine is joining thousands of other hospitals, health systems and healthcare groups nationwide to promote a national gun safety campaign focused on safely storing guns.

The campaign includes a public service message, broadcast and print advertisements, as well as a website where families can learn how to talk with other parents about safely storing their guns. This conversation should be as normal and regular as talking with other parents about their child’s food allergies when arranging a sleepover or playdate.

Some parents believe that hiding their guns will keep children from accessing them, but children will naturally want to explore and may tamper with anything they see, even if it’s just a toy.

Children should be taught to treat every gun as if it were loaded, and to never point a gun at another person. Similarly, they should be taught to always leave the area if they encounter a gun, and to tell a trusted adult right away if they see one.

Avoid Bringing Your Own Gun to the Gun Range

As you teach your kids gun safety, you also need to help them understand that guns are useful and have practical purposes, but they are still potentially dangerous. One of the best ways to do this is by taking them to the gun range and showing them how firearms work in a safe and controlled environment.

When children know that guns are useful but still potentially dangerous, they will treat them with care and respect.

This means that they will not try to play with a gun they find, and they will always keep their finger off the trigger until they are ready to shoot, and they will point a gun in a safe direction (which includes the backstop).

If you do bring your kids to the range, be sure to have them wear ear and eye protection (and preferably gloves, too) while there. Most ranges will ask you to sign a waiver saying that you have reviewed the range rules and will follow them.

Some parents find it helpful to demonstrate the power and force of a gunshot by showing their children pictures of bloody animals or by taking them to the range and showing them what targets look like after firing.

However, even if your child is not easily emotionally traumatized by these kinds of images or sounds, it is probably best to skip this step until they are older.

Gun Violence in the Movies

Even when parents are clear and consistent in describing the dangers of guns to their children, they must remember that young children are still curious about things they think are forbidden. If they find a gun and can’t resist the allure of touching it, they could accidentally hurt themselves or someone else.

We have to help children understand that the gun violence they see on TV and in video games is not real, and that a real gun can kill or seriously harm them.

This can be hard to do because screen violence tends to romanticize it, but parents are in a great position to make sure that their children have a solid understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy.

Kids’ impulse control is not fully developed, and the one time they see a gun that piques their curiosity may be the moment when it all falls apart.

Takeaway

We can help keep our kids safe and give them a healthy understanding of firearms. Gun violence prevention starts at home, and it’s up to us to make sure that our children know the difference between right and wrong when it comes to firearms.

These simple rules can help your children develop a healthy respect for firearms and other dangerous objects they may encounter throughout their lives.

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