In light of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, a common safety topic that has been discussed in the news, amongst ourselves, and between patients and their pediatrician is how a family can keep their children safe from guns. Research and statistics tell us that the best way to reduce the chance that a child is hurt or killed from a gun is to simply not have a gun in the home. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the safest home for a child is a home without a gun.
Did you know that a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a person known to the family, instead of somebody in self-defense? Also, a gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide, and the risk of suicide is 5 times more likely if a gun is present in the home.
When you bring your child to the pediatrician or family physician for a routine healthcare visit, do not be surprised if they ask if you if there are guns in your home. This question is not meant to threaten anybody’s Second Amendment rights, and your physician is not planning on reporting you to any type of agency if you do answer yes.
Pediatricians play a key role in providing anticipatory guidance to families, and we discuss overall safety to help minimize the risk of injury to your child. We will usually discuss gun safety at the same time we discuss car seat safety, water safety, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, and making sure that the batteries in your smoke detector are routinely checked and changed. Pediatricians will advise families not to purchase guns, especially handguns because of the higher risk of a chance of injury or death for a child or teenager in that home.
Part of helping to keep your child safe is to know whether or not there is a gun in the home. If there is a gun in the home, then we discuss that the safest home for a child is a home without a gun. Some parents will then to decide to remove the gun (or any type of firearms) from the home.
However, if there are firearms in the home of a child and the parent does not wish to remove them, then there are some tips that we recommend to help reduce the chance of a child accessing the gun:
- Always keep the gun unloaded and locked up
- Store the ammunition in a separate place from the gun, also locked up
- Be sure to hide the keys of the locked boxes
Young children are naturally curious, and it is difficult for them to follow safety rules. Some older children and teenagers can be moody and impulsive. Access to a gun in both of these age groups can lead to a devastating injury, so measures to help prevent access to firearms are key to preventing injury or death.
In controlled studies that reviewed when families received advice from their pediatrician about gun safety, the families reported at least one or more safe gun-storage practices in the home. Parents should talk to their children about the danger of guns, and tell them to stay away from guns. Parents should also find out if there are guns in the homes where their children play.
Always remember that your pediatrician is available to discuss ways that you can help keep your family safe.