In the United States, gun injuries are one of the top 10 causes of accident-related death in children younger than 18 years of age. About 6 children and teens are hospitalized each day in the United States due to accidental gun injuries.
You have probably heard stories about children who have been killed by an accidental gun injury. Many times, these injuries happen at home or at a friend’s house. These tragedies can be prevented by following a few simple gun safety rules.
Path to safety
Even if you do not own a gun, you probably know someone who does. In the United States, about one-third of families with children younger than 12 years of age have a gun at home. Before your children visit another home, ask the adults if there is a gun in the house. This includes the homes of friends, relatives, or even a babysitter. If they do have a gun in the house, ask whether it is unloaded and properly locked away. This may feel like an awkward conversation, but it’s important to put your child’s safety first.
Talk to your children often about what to do if they find a gun, even if they are not sure whether it is real or a toy. Teach them to remember these words and actions if they see a gun:
- Don’t touch!
- Go away!
- Tell an adult!
Be sure your children know that it is very important to leave the area where the gun is so that they won’t be hurt accidentally by someone else.
What should I do to protect my family from injury if I own a gun?
Children are naturally curious and like to explore. If there is a gun in your home, simply hiding it is not enough. Keep it unloaded and properly locked away. The bullets should be locked away in a separate location. Make the keys available only to responsible adults. The gun and bullets should be stored out of reach of your children and their friends. Also, keep the gun and bullets safe from family members who:
- are depressed
- are abusive to others
- who abuse drugs (including alcohol)
- who have Alzheimer’s disease.
When you are handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended.
What about toys guns and guns in video games, TV shows, or movies?
Children who play violent video games or watch violent TV shows and movies may have trouble understanding that violence in real life actually hurts people. Some parents choose not to allow their children to watch violent TV shows, play video games that involve one player hurting another, or play with toys that are pretend weapons.
Whether or not you make this personal choice, it is important to talk to your children often about the difference between real violence and violence on TV and in games and movies. Remember that even if you don’t allow your children to have toy guns, their friends may have them. Explain to your children that in real life, guns can hurt and kill people.
Things to consider
Research has shown that guns are used in about 40% of teen suicides. Having a gun in the home increases the risk for teen suicide. Teens who are angry or depressed are more likely to kill or harm themselves if they can easily get a gun. Also, teens often act without thinking first. It’s best not to have a gun in your home at all if someone who lives there is depressed, troubled, or thinking of suicide.
When to see a doctor
About 1 out of 5 teens have depression at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. How can you know if your teenager is depressed? Look for changes in your teen’s attitude, schedule, and circle of friends. If your teen seems more tired, is withdrawing from friends, and is often irritable, it could be depression. If you are worried, take your teen to see the doctor. The doctor can rule out any medical problems. He or she can also refer you to a counselor or psychologist, if needed.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Do I really need to hide my gun? Why can’t I just instruct my child not to go near it?
- Wouldn’t teaching my child how to safely handle a gun be better than hiding it and hoping my child doesn’t find it?
- How old should my children be before I can stop hiding my guns?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.