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Firearm (Gun) Safety

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

One final area of home safety that needs to be considered by parents of school-aged children is the appropriate storage and use of guns. Guns can be a useful tool for hunting, maintaining family and cultural heritage, and protection. However, they can also become deadly in an instant. Children cannot be relied upon to understand how to safely handle a gun. The best policy parents can pursue with regard to household firearm safety is therefore to remove all guns from the home. If there are no guns kept in the home, there is no chance that any child will accidentally or purposefully find and misuse them.

gunHowever, some families believe that keeping a gun in the home is necessary and important. Such families need to take special precautions to be sure that children cannot gain access to household guns. Children must be taught that guns are not toys, but instead serious and very dangerous tools. All household guns should be stored and locked in a secured place such as a gun safe that children cannot access. Hiding guns from children is not a safe practice as children will over time explore the house and ultimately locate where the weapons are kept. The only safe practice is to physically lock them away. Ammunition for the guns should be similarly locked up so that children cannot access it.

In families where guns are an important part of family life (such as families that hunt together), children should receive comprehensive firearm safety instruction before being allowed to handle a gun. It goes without saying that parents must insure that any children they allow to come near a gun are mature and responsible enough to handle the huge responsibility and liability that a gun represents. Guns should never be handled by unsupervised children. When there is no need for children to have access to a gun (e.g., after a family hunting trip is completed), all guns should be secured away from children's reach. Guns should absolutely not be stored in a loaded state.

Many families use expensive gun safes to securely store their gun collections. However, a gun safe is not an absolute guarantee of safety. An intelligent, determined child can often guess the combination on a gun safe or figure out how to pick the lock so as to gain access to guns. Even if a child isn't interested, the children's friends may be, and exert peer pressure on the child to gain access to the guns. Parents who maintain guns in the house with their children need to be aware of and comfortable with these risks, and determine that the benefits of keeping firearms in the house outweigh the very real dangers they pose.