If you think your kid doesn't know you own a gun or doesn't know where you keep it in your house, think again, says Dr. Lois Lee, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children's Hospital. It's like trying to hide holiday gifts from children, she adds. Kids can figure out where they are.
To keep children safe from firearms at home, make sure they can't accidentally handle them or use them, says Lee, who is also chair of the Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention at the American Academy of Pediatrics. That might mean storing your gun outside your house, getting a gun safe or locking your firearm.
It's important to take these precautions because guns are dangerous to children. In the U.S., firearms are the No. 1 cause of death for children and teens. According to the AAP, 4,752 children died from homicides, suicides and accidental shootings in 2021.
Here's how to safely store your firearms and talk to other parents and caregivers about firearm safety.
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1) Keep guns out of the house
The best way to prevent gun-related injuries to children is to remove guns from the home, according to the AAP. Some gun shops and shooting ranges offer firearm storage, says Lee — so see if you can keep your gun there instead of inside your house.
2) Store the firearm and ammunition separately
If you choose to keep your firearm at home, store the ammunition and the unloaded firearm in separate gun safes, says Lee. That can make it more difficult for a child to access and use a gun.
In fact, one study published in JAMA found that families who stored their ammunition and unloaded firearms in separate gun safes had an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional firearm injuries among kids and teens, compared to those who locked neither.
Lee recommends getting a biometric gun safe. They tend to be pricier than traditional safes, but they are more secure. Unlike a key safe or a combination safe, which can be opened by anyone who has the key or combination, biometric safes can only be accessed with the biometrics (like fingerprints or eye scans) of the authorized user.
3) Consider a gun lock
You might also consider getting a gun trigger lock. It can prevent someone from pulling the trigger unless they remove the lock. It is generally more affordable than other gun storage options — and some cities and states even provide free locks. But it is less secure than a gun safe, says Lee.
Lee recommends getting a biometric gun lock, which only unlocks with, say, the fingerprint of an authorized user. It's also harder to open than a cable lock, which are more "vulnerable to being broken," she says. The cable can be cut and the lock can easily be picked.
4) Talk to your kids about the danger of guns
Emphasize to your child that firearms are "potentially very dangerous instruments that can kill or seriously injure another human," says Lee.
Bring it up when you talk to your kids about other safety issues, like why it's important to wear a seatbelt or wait at the crosswalk before crossing the street, she adds. Tell your kids that they "need to have respect for the firearm and also respect for safety rules," says Lee, and that firearms are "not something that they should handle without an adult present."
5) Protect your child from guns in other people's homes
Before taking your child to a friend or a family member's house, ask them if they have guns at home and what safety measures they have in place to protect children and young people from accessing them.
Bring these questions up while talking about your child's general safety on their visit. "Start with things like food allergies," says Lee. Here's a script that can help guide the conversation:
"I'm so glad that Johnny is coming over to play. He's really excited. Just want you to know he is allergic to peanuts, so please help him stay away from those. And, by the way, if you're driving anywhere, just want to make sure that you have enough car seats. And you know little Johnny, he is so curious. So I just want to know: how do you have your firearm stored in your home?"
This approach focuses the conversation on "the shared goal of safety for all the children," she adds. "Nobody wants a child to be injured or hurt on their watch."
If you don't feel your child will be safe at someone's home, Lee suggests meeting at a neutral space like a playground or park.
This episode of Life Kit was produced by Clare Marie Schneider. Our visuals editor is Beck Harlan, and our digital editor is Malaka Gharib.
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