About one-third of homes in the U.S. have some type of firearm. Access to firearms in the home raise the risk of unintentional firearm-related death and injury among children. Unintentional shootings cause a major portion of all firearm-related deaths among children ages 14 and younger.
Underestimating a child's ability to gain access to a firearm in the home and use it is a common problem. Even a 3-year-old child may have enough finger strength to pull the trigger of a handgun. Unlike adults, children can't tell the difference between a real gun and toy guns. Also, 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 even worth the risk to keep a firearm in your home. If you choose to do so, safely store the firearm locked up, unloaded, and out of reach. Keep ammunition in a separate, locked place from the actual firearm. Also, talk with your child about the dangers of firearms. Teach your child to never touch or play with guns and to tell an adult if they find a gun.
Being aware of situations that can raise your child's risk for an unintentional firearm injury may help prevent one. High-risk situations include:
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.
Accessible firearms at another home. Even if your home does not have a firearm, your neighbor, friend, or relative may have an accessible firearm in the house.
Teen boys. Most children killed by accident with firearms are boys. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers homes with teen boys at a higher risk for accidental injury and death from firearms.
Ammunition and firearms stored together. When a firearm is locked away with ammunition, or left loaded, it greatly raises the risk of accidental injury and death from firearms. About one-third to one-half of all firearm owners keep their firearms loaded and ready for use at least some of the time.
Lack of supervision. Most accidental firearm shootings among children happen 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 with a higher risk of accidental injury and death from firearms include those in which someone is abusing alcohol or illegal drugs.
The only sure way to keep your child safe from accidental injury and death from firearms in your home is to remove all firearms from the home. Yet, there are other ways to improve the safety of your child around firearms. These ways include:
Store the firearm correctly. Firearms should always be stored unloaded and uncocked in a locked container.
The gun should be stored separate from ammunition.
The firearm and ammunition should both be locked away, in a place known only to the parents, and out of reach of children.
For a revolver, put a padlock around the top strap of the weapon. This will prevent the cylinder from closing.
For a pistol, use a trigger lock. Never leave a gun unattended, even for a moment. This includes when you are cleaning it.
Educate your child. Teaching your child the dangers of guns may help prevent accidental injury and death from firearms. A parent should teach a child to do the following if they see a firearm:
Don't touch the firearm.
Leave the area.
Tell an adult right away.
Check with relatives, friends, and 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.
Use 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 accidental fatal shootings of children ages 5 and younger.