To hear the older readers talk about their childhood, playing with the neighborhood children was a carefree time with essentially no adult supervision, in and out of each other’s homes and multiple complicated games. As our society has changed play has become more organized with play dates, careful vetting the other child’s home for the presence of adult supervision, swimming pool safety, or the suitability of the “baby-sitter”. Quite simply, times have changed.
Firearms are now the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens under the age of 17. “Suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death for 10- to 24 year olds after a category of accidental deaths that includes motor vehicle crashes, falls, drowning and overdoses. Guns were used in 54% of suicides and 93% of homicides in this age group.” (Houston Chronicle, June 16, 2023) The risk of homicide is three times higher when there are guns in the home. Suicide rates are four times higher in children with guns in their home than those without.
First parents, relatives and close neighbors need to conduct their own safety screen to determine if there are guns in the home and if they are safely stored. Safety measures recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics are as follows: All guns should be locked and unloaded with ammunition locked separately. Access to the keys or combinations of the lock boxes or gun safes should not be accessible to children or teens. Never keep a loaded, unlocked gun in the car or anywhere else on the property. There are safe or lockboxes for guns, both handguns and rifles, there are gun trigger locks and lock boxes for ammunition.
When using a gun for hunting or target practice always keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire and never put the gun down without unloading it. Even gun safety instructed children are not capable or responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.
Sometimes these can be awkward questions even for grandparents and play dates. Perhaps one could start by saying something like “my pediatrician suggest that I ask if there are guns in your home”. If the answer is “yes” then the next question is if they are stored safely. That question might be “Great. Little Johnny is so curious and always getting into things. How are your firearms stored?”
Talk to your children and remind them that if they ever come across a gun they must stay away from it and tell you or another adult immediately. Children seeing guns on TV, movies, or video games need to be taught that they are not real but in real life they can hurt children badly, even kill them.
Children are aware of the gun violence in schools and other public places. If they are concerned or feel threatened they should talk to a responsible adult about what they have seen and be rewarded for being a safety officer.
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy