It is estimated that 40 percent of all homes in the U.S. have some type of firearm, of which one in four is a handgun. Access to firearms in the home increases the risk of unintentional firearm-related death and injury among children. Unintentional shootings cause a significant portion of all firearm-related deaths among children ages 14 and under.
An underestimation of children's ability to gain access to a firearm in the home is a common problem. In addition, unlike adults, children are unable to distinguish between a real gun and toy guns, and children are not able to make good judgments about how to safely handle a gun.
To keep your child safe from firearms, consider whether it is worth the risk to your child to keep a firearm in your home. If you do choose to keep a firearm, safely store the firearm locked up and out of reach, and keep ammunition in a separate, locked place from the actual firearm. Also, by talking with your child about the dangers of firearms, you can teach your child to never touch or play with guns, and to tell an adult if he or she finds a gun.
Awareness of situations that can increase your child's risk of exposure to unintentional firearms injuries may help prevent them. High-risk situations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Accessible firearms in the home
Parents often underestimate their child's ability to gain access to the firearm in the house, or even the child's ability to pull the trigger. Statistics show that 75 percent to 80 percent of first and second graders who live in a home with a firearm know where the firearm is kept. In addition, children as young as 3 may be strong enough to pull the trigger of a firearm.
- Accessible firearms at another home
Even if your home does not contain a firearm, your neighbor, friend, or relative may have an accessible firearm in the house.
- Adolescent boys
The majority of children, ages 14 and under, killed unintentionally by a firearm, are boys. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers homes with adolescent boys at a higher risk for unintentional firearm-related injury and death.
- Ammunition and firearms stored together
When a firearm is locked away with ammunition, or left loaded, it greatly increases the risk of unintentional firearm-related injury and death. It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of all firearm owners keep their firearms loaded and ready for use at least some of the time.
- Lack of supervision
Most unintentional firearm shootings among children occur during times when children are not supervised, such as during the late afternoon, on weekends, and during summer months.
- High-risk homes
According to the AAP, homes that can increase the risk of unintentional firearm-related injury and death include homes where there are alcohol or drug-addicted individuals.
Although the only sure way to keep your child safe from unintentional firearm-related injury and death in your home is to remove all firearms from the home, there are other ways to improve the safety of your child around firearms, including the following:
- Proper storage
Firearms should always be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition. The firearm and ammunition should both be locked away and out of reach of children.
- Educate your child
Teaching your child the dangers of guns may help prevent unintentional firearms-related injuries and death. A parent should teach a child if he or she sees a firearm, to:
- Not touch the firearm.
- Leave the area.
- Tell an adult immediately.
- Check with neighbors
Even if your own home is free of firearms, your child may visit another home where firearms are kept. Always check with neighbors, friends, and relatives to make sure they safely store their firearms, out of reach of children.
- Other safety devices
Safety devices such as gun locks, lock boxes, and gun safes should be used for every firearm in the house. Safety devices on firearms could prevent most unintentional fatal shootings of children ages 5 and under.
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