In America, gun violence is one of the top three causes of death for children between the ages of fifteen and nineteen; one in four deaths from injury in this age range is from a gunshot. In 2009 alone (the most recent year for which statistics are available), there were 114 unintentional gunshot deaths in children and adolescents, in addition to the deaths from homicide and suicide. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates 10,000 kids were injured or killed by gunshots that year: 4559 intentional, 2149 accidental, and 270 suicide attempts (the rest were undetermined). 3000 of these kids don’t live long enough to get to a hospital; 453 died in a hospital in 2009. A firearm is forty-three times more likely to be used to kill friends or family than a burglar. In my perfect world, there would be no guns inside anyone’s homes. If you must have a gun in your home, keep it unloaded, lock it up, lock up the ammunition separately, and hide the keys. Then realize that your kids will figure out your hiding place.
Whether or not you have guns, teach your children that guns are not toys—and discuss what they should do if they see one: stop, walk away, and tell an adult. Then realize that your child’s curiosity will get the better of him or her when they do see a gun. Unfortunately, it is very likely that your children will end up at someone’s home where there will be a loaded gun. Half the homes in America have a gun, and thoughtless people do keep them loaded and unlocked. I have lost several children in my practice to gunshots—all but one incident took place in a neighbor’s house where the parents didn’t even know there was a gun present.
Kids are fascinated by guns. Your three-year-old can get to that loaded gun on the top shelf of your closet; your eight-year-old does know where the keys to the gun safe are kept; your five-year-old will grab that loaded rifle and attempt to take it into his tree house. Don’t learn this lesson the hard way, as these parents did, in my practice.