As a pediatrician, the safety and well-being of all children is my primary concern. When I counsel families on sleep safety, car safety, sunscreen, baby proofing, choking risks and even preventative care like healthy eating and vaccines, it is because my ultimate goal is for all children to grow up healthy. Firearm safety is no different. While it is legal to own a gun in the United States, it is not always safe to do so when children are around. Children are naturally curious and no matter how many times you tell them not to touch something, research shows that their curiosity will get the better of them. Even if you think your gun is safely stored or hidden out of your child’s reach, studies suggest differently. “39% of parents erroneously believe their children do not know where their gun is stored, and 22% wrongly believe their child never handled their gun.”
What are the risks?
Gun violence, intentional and accidental, in this country is a very real concern. “Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of death overall among U.S. children ages 1-17 years, and the second leading cause of injury-related death (behind only car crashes).” Almost 1300 children die by guns yearly and 5,790 are treated for gun-related injuries. That’s scary! While half of those injuries were intentional (homicide), in younger children, firearm injury is more likely to be accidental. In the adolescent population, suicide by firearm is the 3rd leading cause of death and suicides compromise 38% of yearly deaths by firearms. Access to firearms greatly increases the risk of injury to children of all ages and guns in the home are 43% more likely to be used to kill someone known to the shooter. Furthermore, having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide 5-fold.
What can you do to keep your family safe?
Between the normal curiosity of young children, the risk of accidental shootings, the risk to family members in domestic violence situations, and the impulsive nature of adolescents who may be depressed or suicidal, it is extremely risky to have a gun in the home. However if you choose to own a gun, it is imperative to know how to keep everyone safe.
- Keep unloaded guns locked and stored in a locked cabinet
- Store ammunition in a separate locked cabinet
- Always observe young children who may be playing in the area where the gun is stored
- ASK other parents where your children go to play if they have a gun in the home
The ASK campaign is intended to keep all children safe. Just like you would ask fellow parents about other safety concerns while your child is in their care, ask about unlocked guns in the home. Started by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ask campaign wants you to pledge to ask about unlocked guns before your child goes somewhere to play.
For more information, listen to my podcast here with Healthy Children.