When your child goes to a friend’s house, you might not think to ask if there are guns in the house. Or you might be hesitant to ask for fear of being rude. But the question should definitely be on your checklist.
“When you arrange that play date, it’s going to be an awkward moment perhaps,” said Heather Trnka, injury prevention coordinator for Akron Children’s Hospital. “But it’s OK to speak up and ask. Do you have guns? Are they locked? Where are they stored? You have to decide if it’s safe enough for your child to play there.”
Accidental shootings happen with regularity. One-third of homes with kids have guns, and 3 out of 4 first- and second-graders know where their parents keep them, according to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute.
By some accounts, close to 2 million kids live in homes where guns are improperly stored. Most unintentional shooting deaths of children happen when kids are playing with loaded guns in a parent’s absence.
“It’s really important for parents to talk to their kids about guns,” Heather said. “Even if you don’t own guns, your kids should be taught to be safe and responsible around guns.”
Doctors are also urged to ask about guns to prevent accidental injuries and deaths. Your child’s doctor may ask during a routine visit whether there are guns in the house, and if they are properly stored. The issue has been contentious, however. Florida in 2011 passed a law that forbid doctors from asking about firearms, but a federal appeals court overturned the law earlier this year.
Here are other safety suggestions from Heather:
- Guns should be locked up and out of reach. Ammunition should be locked up separately. Trigger locks are also recommended.
- Children should be taught that if they see a gun to follow 4 rules: Stop what you’re doing, don’t touch it, leave the area and tell an adult.
- Keep gun-cleaning supplies secured as well. They are often poisonous.
- Kids under 16 shouldn’t handle high-powered BB or pellet guns. At 16 or older, a parent should supervise. Along those lines, if your child is going to a friend’s house, ask about access to paintball or airsoft guns.
- If your child shows signs of depression, arrange to store guns outside the home. Most firearm-related deaths are suicides.
In a 2013 risk behavior survey of 12,500 Summit County high school students, 30 percent said they found it easy to get a handgun. Almost the same percentage said they had experienced depressive sadness, and 17 percent said they had seriously considered suicide.