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Talk to your kids about guns and make it an ongoing dialogue

Guns are everywhere in our society. There are daily news stories about gun-related crimes and too frequent headlines about mass shootings in schools, on college campuses, at businesses, and on city streets – just about any place innocent people may be gathered. 

Guns are omnipresent, and often glorified, in popular culture – in music lyrics, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and video games. So it is not surprising that even young children may become fascinated by guns. Americans have a constitutional right to own guns and millions of law-abiding citizens do own them for sport and recreational purposes and to protect themselves and their homes from intruders.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, firearm-related deaths continue as one of the top three causes of death in American youth and the most effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and teens is the absence of guns from homes and communities. According to the AAP:

  • A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in defense.
  • A gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide.
  • The risk of suicide is five times more likely if a gun is kept in the home.

Here are some tips for parents on gun safety and how to talk to your kids about the dangers of guns. According to Lisa Pardi, RN, injury prevention coordinator for Akron Children’s Hospital, even if you don’t own a gun yourself, it is just as important to talk to your children about the dangers of guns.

  • Keep your gun in a locked safe and out of the reach of kids. Simply hiding the gun is not safe enough; it must be locked.
  • Lock the ammunition and store it apart from the gun.
  • Store the keys for the gun and ammunition in a different area from where you store other household keys.
  • Lock up gun-cleaning supplies, which are often poisonous.
  • When handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended.
  • Turn content in TV shows, songs and movies and news stories, as well as your children’s own questions, into teaching opportunities to talk about the dangers of guns. Use age-appropriate language and details. Explain to them that, unlike TV shows and in video games, real guns can kill real people and that many children have died or been seriously hurt just by touching or holding a gun – without any real intent to hurt themselves or other people.  
  • If your child is planning a play date or sleep-over at a friend’s house, do not feel uncomfortable talking to those parents about your concerns about your child’s access to guns. This may be awkward but other parents should understand that you only have your child’s safety in mind.
  • If you are in any way uncomfortable with your child playing at friend’s house, offer to host the play date at your house instead.
  • Teach your children that if they come into contact with a gun (even if they think it may be a toy gun) they should take the following four easy-to-remember steps:
    • Stop
    • Don’t touch
    • Remove yourself from the area, and
    • Tell an adult
  • Keep an ongoing dialogue about guns with your children. As they grow older, they may hear their friends talk about guns and where they are stored.
  • Remind your children that it is never funny to say they have a gun or to threaten to shoot someone else. These words are taken very seriously at school and by the police.
  • Tell your children to tell a teacher, guidance counselor or the principal if someone at school says they have a gun, is planning to bring a gun or other weapon to school or is making other threats. They should also tell you. Tell them they have the power to save lives and prevent a tragedy – just by speaking up. 

These and other tips related to safely storing and using guns are shared in the following video.