In a home where guns are kept, the degree of safety a child has rests squarely on the child's parents. Parents who accept the responsibility to learn, practice and teach gun safety rules will ensure their child's safety to a much greater extent than those who do not. Parental responsibility does not end, however, when the child leaves the home.
According to federal statistics, there are guns in approximately half of all U.S. households. Even if no one in your family owns a gun, chances are that someone you know does. Your child could come in contact with a gun at a neighbor's house, when playing with friends, or under other circumstances outside your home. It is critical for your child to know what to do if he or she encounters a firearm anywhere, and it is the parents' responsibility to provide that training.
There is no particular age to talk with your child about gun safety. A good time to introduce the subject is the first time he or she shows an interest in firearms, even toy pistols or rifles. Talking openly and honestly about gun safety with your child is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to "Stay out of the gun closet," and leaving it at that. Such statements may just stimulate a child's natural curiosity to investigate further.
As with any safety lesson, explaining the rules and answering a child's questions help remove the mystery surrounding guns. Any rules set for your child should also apply to friends who visit the home. This will help keep your child from being pressured into showing a gun to a friend.
It is also advisable, particularly with very young children, to discuss gun use on television as opposed to gun use in real life. Firearms are often handled carelessly in movies and on TV. Additionally, children see TV and movie characters shot and "killed" with well-documented frequency. When a young child sees that same actor appear in another movie or TV show, confusion between entertainment and real life may result. It may be a mistake to assume that your child knows the difference between being "killed" on TV and in reality.
If your child has toy guns, you may want to use them to demonstrate safe gun handling and to explain how they differ from genuine firearms. Even though an unsupervised child should not have access to a gun, there should be no chance that he or she could mistake a real gun for a toy.
If you have decided that your child is not ready to be trained in a gun's handling and use, explain that he or she must not touch a gun in your home. If your child sees a gun outside the home, teach him or her to follow the instructions:
The initial steps of "Stop" and "Don't Touch" are the most important. To counter the natural impulse to touch a gun, it is imperative that you impress these steps of the safety message upon your child.
In today's society, where adult supervision is not always possible, the direction to "Leave the Area" is also essential. Under some circumstances, "area" may be understood to be a room if your child cannot physically leave the apartment or house.
"Tell an Adult" emphasizes that children should seek a trustworthy adult - neighbor, relative or teacher - if a parent or guardian is not available.Gun Owners' Responsibilities
Most states impose some form of legal duty on adults to take reasonable steps to deny access by children to dangerous substances or instruments. It is the individual gun owner's responsibility to understand and follow all laws regarding gun purchase, ownership, storage, transport, etc.
If you own a gun and do not know how to operate it, do not experiment with it. Point it in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger, and store it securely. Seek competent assistance and instruction at once. An untrained adult can be as dangerous as a curious child.
Store guns so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users. Gun shops sell a wide variety of safes, cases, and other security devices. While specific security measures may vary, a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the firearm and absolutely assure that it is inaccessible to a child.
This document is not intended as a complete course in gun safety and is not a substitute for formal, qualified instruction in the handling, use, or storage of firearms. The guidelines herein should be considered options to minimize the chance of an accident occurring in the home.