Children And Guns Don’t Mix
My son has always been fascinated by weapons. In fact, one of his first words was “gun.” Now, before you take me for a GTM (Gun Totin’ Mama, for you less informed), let me assure you, both my husband and I are just shy of being full-fledged pacifists. The only gun Alex saw at an early age was one Goofy held while dressed as a sheriff in his favorite Disney book.
I recently learned that the family of one of my son’s friends keeps a loaded handgun in their home. I shudder when I think of the hours my son spent playing at their house. Would Alex have been able to resist handling a real weapon if he had come across it? The implications for both Alex, and the other children present, make my blood run cold.
With the open-carry gun bill recently signed by Govenor Fallin, and due to take effect November 1, firearms will be more visible to children in public and possibly less “concealed” in homes. A more relaxed attitude to guns in public may make some gun owners less vigilant about guns in their home.
And, if you think your child has been adequately warned not to handle your gun or a gun at a friend’s house, you could be in for a sad surprise. An article titled “Seeing is Believing: What Do Boys Do When They Find a Real Gun?” published in a 2001 edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, documented a study done with groups of 8- to 12-year-old boys who were left alone in a room with concealed water pistols and a concealed .380 caliber handgun. The handgun contained a radio transmitter that indicated if the trigger was depressed with sufficient force to discharge the firearm. Out of 29 groups, 16 groups found and handled the gun, and one or more members in 10 of the groups pulled the trigger. Boys whose parents believed their child had low interest in guns were as likely to handle the gun as those who were perceived to have moderate to high interest in guns.
This makes it even more important to do what I failed to do when my son was young: ask about guns before your child spends time in someone’s home. Yes, it is uncomfortable to feel as though you are grilling a play date. But your child’s life and the life of other children may depend on it. If you find that the family does have a gun in the home, ask where the gun is kept and what safety precautions are used. If you aren’t comfortable with the answers, don’t allow your child to go to the home.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following statistics about guns in the home:
- A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense.
- A gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide.
- The risk of suicide is five times more likely if a gun is kept in the home.
The advice of the AAP regarding guns is as follows:
- The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER (emphasis theirs) have a gun in the home.
- Do not purchase a gun, especially a handgun.
- Remove all guns present in the home.
- Talk to your children about the dangers of guns, and tell them to stay away from guns.
- Find out if there are guns in the homes where your children play. If so, talk to the adults in the house about the dangers of guns in their families.
Tulsa Police Officer Leland Ashley has these tips for families who choose to keep guns in their home:
- Always have the weapon secured when you aren’t there. That means the firearm should be unloaded and locked up with the ammunition locked in a separate place.
- Teach your children about gun safety.
- Explain to children the harm a gun will do.
- Teach them that if they are at a friend’s house and another child asks if they want to see a gun, they should say “No!” leave the residence, and tell a responsible adult.
Children are curious, said Officer Ashley, adding, “If you think, ‘My son or daughter would never handle a gun,’ I’m telling you right now, they would!”
The University of Michigan Health System has an informative website about gun safety and children. You can access it by going to: www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/guns.htm.