Guns are 100 percent safe for kids -- as long as the guns are unloaded, locked away, and never touched. But as soon as a bullet enters the chamber and a hand nears the trigger, guns become a serious hazard to children.
According to the National Rifle Association, gunfire kills about one child every day in this country. The NRA also claims that one child dies every week from accidental gunfire. That may sound bad enough, but other research suggests that the NRA is greatly under-reporting the problem. A 2010 study by researchers at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia identified nearly 24,000 gun-related deaths -- including about 1,400 accidental deaths -- in children and teens between 1999 and 2006. That works out to eight deaths per day and an accidental death every two days. And that's just the fatalities. The number of kids seriously injured by firearms is about four times larger.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a strong and unequivocal stance on children and guns. As stated in a 2010 report, the academy's position is that the best way to keep your child safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home. (Emphasis theirs.) The academy recommends removing any guns currently in your home and finding out if there are any guns in homes where your child plays.
Some parents keep a gun in the house for protection, but they'd almost certainly be safer without one. According to the AAP, a gun in the house is 43 times more likely to kill a friend or family member than an intruder. Notably, guns found in the home are a leading cause of teen suicide.
If you still want to have a gun, invest in a trigger lock. Also, keep your gun unloaded and locked away in a gun cabinet, a safe, or another secure place. (Find a different place to lock up the ammunition.) Don't simply hide the gun in a sock drawer or a dark corner of your closet. Kids have an amazing ability to sniff out hiding spots.
What should I tell my young child about guns?
With roughly 250 million firearms in the United States (by the NRAs estimate), gun safety can't stop at home. Your child needs to understand the dangers of guns and how to protect himself if he comes across one. As soon as possible, teach your child these important lessons:
- The bullets and the blood on TV shows may be fake, but guns can hurt and kill children in real life.
- Never touch a gun for any reason.
- A gun means it's time to go. If your child sees a gun at a neighbor's house or elsewhere, he should leave immediately and tell you or another adult about it. (It's not enough to tell your child never to touch a gun. If his friend is handling a gun, your child is in danger.)
When is a child old enough to use a gun responsibly?
If you still want your child to know how to hunt or shoot, wait until the teenage years to begin instruction. Your child may be intelligent and emotionally mature, and he may know the book on gun safety, but you simply can't trust him with a hunting rifle until he's at least 13 years old -- and not even then unless you are absolutely certain he is mature enough to be responsible. (Don't give your child a BB gun -- thousands of children are injured every year by these "toys." Writer Alice Walker is among the many Americans who have lost an eye to a sibling's BB gun.) If you decide to let him use a gun, make it a rule that he must be accompanied by an adult.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Gun safety: Keeping children safe. 2010. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/pages/Gun-Safety-Keeping-Children-Safe.aspx
National Rifle Association. Firearm safety in America. 2009. http://www.nraila.org/issues/factsheets/read.aspx?id=120
ML et al. Variation in pediatric and adolescent firearm mortality rates in rural and urban US counties. Pediatrics. 2010. 125(6): 1112-1118.