Having a gun in a home with children demands a high level of parental responsibility. Teach that responsibility with your own example; by keeping your guns safely locked away.
Children 2-10 years old:
What do you think a young child would do if they found a gun in a box under a bed?
Young children are naturally curious. They are curious about their world, about how things work, and they are intensely curious about many potentially dangerous objects that can be found in the home.
Many parents think that telling their child to avoid where a gun is located in the home is sufficient warning. Unfortunately, that approach does not take into consideration that young children are not developmentally capable of such restraint, nor do they understand its significance.
In a classic 1999 episode of the ABC News show 20/20 with Diane Sawyer, journalists followed young children who had been given explicit instruction to stay away from guns if they ever found one, and told them to tell an adult, etc.
Then they tested the scenario by leaving a real (unloaded) gun where children could find it, and filmed the children’s reactions.
Unsecured firearms and children are a significant risk for accidental death or injuries; no matter how good you think your hiding place is in your home, they will find it.
Can a five-year-old understand that his actions could carry deadly consequences?
Prior to the ages of 8-10 years old a young child’s brain is simply not capable of understanding complex concepts of risk avoidance, nor do they fully comprehend the permanency of death. Young children do not have sufficient cognitive development to appreciate the true risks of using a firearm. As such, children cannot be counted on to react rationally if they do encounter an unsecured firearm in the home.
If you have guns in your home, a young child may attempt to use or access them and never comprehend the true significance of what they are doing. Real guns are not toys, but many young children confuse a gun for a toy and are irresistibly drawn to them.
Kids who have access to unsecured guns in their home can use them to kill and injure others.
Each day news headlines from across the country highlight individual tragedies of children who were killed from finding and using an unsecured gun in the home. These incidents are almost entirely preventable.
Imagine the guilt and shame that would haunt children who accidentally kill a sibling or a playmate, like a 6-year-old shooting and killing his 4-year-old friend.
Or imagine the parents of children who wind up killing or injuring themselves while playing with a parent’s loaded gun, or commit suicide with that gun.
A better and safer approach is to keep all guns locked, unloaded, and store your ammunition separately. Don’t let your family become the next tragic headline.
“Bulletproof” your kids with safe storage practices.
Adolescents 12-18 years old:
With a unsecured gun around, there is no second chance.
Adolescence can be a very challenging time of life. Teenagers feel a variety of intense emotions over their growing bodies, changing circumstances, and difficult school or home environments.
An adolescent’s brain is still developing, and they are vulnerable to feelings of overwhelming anxiety, insecurity, depression and feelings of helplessness that can trigger hormonal spikes and adrenaline at the same time.
Teens are impulsive. A breakup for a teenager can seem worse than a natural disaster. Their worlds are focused on today, without the perspective and wisdom age brings.
Teen suicide is an impulsive act, motivated more by a passing crisis than by severe mental illness. Most suicide attempts do not follow extensive deliberation, and if unsuccessful, are rarely repeated.
(Harvard School of Public Health).
However, suicide attempts with guns are more likely to be completed than suicide attempts using other methods, and access to unsecured guns increases the likelihood of suicide. An unsecured gun in a home with adolescents can become a deadly combination.
Research has shown that “Safe Storage practices” – i.e.; storing household guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition reduces the risk of suicide among adolescents and children.
(Journal of American Medical Association, 293 February 9th, 2005)
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997). Rates of homicide, suicide, and firearm-related death in children — 26 industrial countries. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00046149.htm
Very Young Guns by Marjorie Hardy
5/14/99 New York Times
Would your child pick up a gun? Would he shoot a friend? Shoot himself?
Mine would, and so would dozens of others children at his day care center.
No, I’m not talking about toy guns. I’m not talking about children with an emotional problems or violent tendencies. These were children 4 to 7 who are middle class. The .357 magnum, 22-caliber handgun and .38 with a four-inch barrel were disarmed, of course, but real. Had these children found the guns in a different situation, they might be dead.
This test took places in my son’s day care center last month, but the results only reinforced the conclusions of previous studies. In 1995 and 19996, two of my students and I conducted two studies whose original purpose was to find a way to prevent children from playing with guns. We focused on young children, who are most at risk for accidental gun injuries. And we took the approach that most parents take: education. We expected that the children would listen to us and that we could make their lives safer. What actually happened was very different.
In the first study, we brought a police officer to a class of 60 children and he told them: “Don’t touch guns—they’re dangerous. If you see a gun, leave the area. Go tell an adult.” The children “learned” the lesson: they could tell you what they would do it they saw a gun. But when we left them alone with disarmed guns, they picked them up and shot everything in sight.
So, in the second study, we taught a different group of children for five days how to make good choices, how to resist peer pressure, how to distinguish toys from dangerous objects.
But the results were similar: across the two studies, 65 percent of the children played with the guns. They even tried to use crayons as bullets.
We asked the children if they thought the guns were toys. Most of the 4-year olds couldn’t tell the difference between the real and the fake. About half of the 5-year-olds and most of the 6-year-olds could distinguish between the two. But they all played with the guns. What’s scarier, a child not knowing what’s safe and what’s dangerous, or a child knowing the difference and playing anyway?
Not fair, the critics said; you put guns in a setting where, children feel safe, in their own day care class. True, but aren’t’ homes supposed to be safe too? We childproof medicine bottles and swimming pools, but we put loaded handguns in bedroom drawers.
We asked the children and their parents about guns in their homes. We couldn’t’ get a straight answer. Of the 109 parents interviewed, more than half reported that they owned guns, and four admitted to keeping a handgun loaded and readily accessible. Did their children know where the gun was? No, they said.
But the children told a different story. Seventeen children whose parents denied owning guns said their parents had them. Some told of one parents hiding a gun from another. “My daddy keeps it in the glove compartment” of his truck, but my mom doesn’t know,” one child confided. Ten children said they not only knew where the gun was, but had touched it without permission.
Gun control laws are a start, but rules and warnings alone are not going to keep children safe. Parents have to monitor their children closely and rethink their decision to own a gun. They need to know if guns are in the homes of their children’s friends.