The recent and tragic rash of children accidentally shooting another person or themselves again brings the issue of firearm safety to the forefront. Firearm violence has become a public health crisis in the United States. Guns are widely available in our society and are kept in millions of American homes. According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, almost 8.7 million children and adolescents have access to handguns, and many are either unaware of or ignore the possible consequences of handling these lethal weapons.
School-age children and adolescents are curious about and often attracted to guns. They sometimes see guns as symbols of power.
The availability of handguns in settings where children live and play has led to a devastating toll in human lives, reflected in some sobering statistics: every two hours, someone’s child is killed with a gun, either in a homicide, a suicide, or as a result of an unintentional injury. In addition, an unknown but large number of children are seriously injured—often irreversibly disabled—by guns but survive. Major trauma centers are reporting an increase of 300 percent in the number of children treated for gunshot wounds; in fact, one in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the United States is due to gunshot wounds.
A gun in the home is forty-three times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal. To compound this problem, depressed pre-teenagers and teenagers commit suicide with guns more frequently than by any other means.
We have a constitutional right to own guns. However, many parents with children in the home choose not to own a gun. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents that the best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to not have a gun in the home. However, millions of parents choose their legal right to have firearms in their home. If you are one of these, adhere to these rules for gun safety:
·Never allow your child access to your gun(s). No matter how much instruction you may give him or her, a youngster up through the middle years is not mature and responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.
·Guns (preferably unloaded) and ammunition should be locked away safely in separate locations in the house; and make sure children don’t have access to the keys.
·Guns should be equipped with trigger locks.
·Be a good role model for your kids. When using a gun for hunting or target practice, learn how to operate it before ever loading it. Never point the gun at another person, and keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it. Before setting the gun down, always unload it. Do not use alcohol or drugs while you are shooting.
·Gun cleaning supplies, which are often poisonous, should also be kept out of reach.
Even if you don’t have guns in your own home, that won’t eliminate your child’s risks. Half of the homes in the United States contain firearms, and more than a third of all accidental shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbors, or relatives.
Here is some important information you need to communicate to your youngsters:
·Let them know that risks of gun injuries may exist in places they visit and play.
Tell them that if they see or encounter a gun in a friend’s home or elsewhere, they must steer clear of it, and tell you about it. Talk with the parents of your child’s friends, and find out if they have firearms in their home. If they do, try to find out in a respectful way if they keep them unloaded, locked up, and inaccessible to children.
·When a child is old enough to interact with others, even if he doesn’t speak yet, he probably has a good idea of what guns are. According to the National Institute on Media and Family, the average child sees 200,000 violent acts on television (including 40,000 murders) by high school graduation. These numbers do not include what children see in movies or on the Internet. Make sure your child understands that violence on TV, in the movies, and online is not real. Children need to be told—and reminded again and again and again—that in real life, children are killed and hurt badly by guns. Although the popular media often romanticize gun use, youngsters must learn that these weapons can be extremely dangerous.
·The Eddie Eagle Program of the National Rifle Association offers the following four-step approach to gun safety for kids: stop, don’t touch, get away, and tell an adult. Kids also need to be reminded of these 4 steps over and over again.
Your priority as a parent must be to protect your children from harm. If you have questions or concerns about this issue, discuss it with your child’s pediatrician.