In a country where there are almost as many guns as there are people, it’s no wonder the news is often filled of stories of tragic accidents involving accidental shooting of children.
As an example, look at the story involving Amy Pittman, a 38-year-old single mother from North Carolina who is facing criminal charges after one of her boys accidentally shot and killed her youngest boy, nine-year-old Christian.
“Five minutes can change your whole life,” Pittman says. “I wish every day that I would have stayed home [that day].”
Once a week, a child under the age of 12 dies from a gun accident in the US. Most of these situations begin the same way, with an unsecured, loaded firearm and a moment of inattention.
So, what should you, a responsible gun owner, do to prevent these kinds of situations in your own environment? Take a few steps to ensure the safety of those around you, keeping in mind that kids will be kids.
You might think it’s not as important to secure your firearms when there’s a toddler in your home. After all, they’re short and uncoordinated, so if you put your weapons out of reach, they should be safe, right?
Don’t assume a toddler can’t climb, because they can and will, especially if they think there’s some kind of prize awaiting them. If they see you with a firearm, it’s an excellent time to tell them ‘no’, just like you would if they reached toward a hot stove.
If you keep loaded firearms with a toddler in the home, take the extra step of putting the firearms up high and using a locking mechanism on the weapon itself. Yes, it will take a few seconds to remove the lock should you need it for defense, but it will go a long way toward preventing a fatal accident.
Kids from the age of 5 years to 10 years old should be instructed that firearms are dangerous. If you have a place at home to target practice, children can be invited to watch (with supervision and proper safety equipment like ear plugs). This is an excellent way to show your kids what a gun can do, to a paper target, a wood backboard, or tin cans.
When you show, rather than tell, children that something is dangerous, they’ll have a frame of reference they can better understand. Going back to the hot stove analogy: kids who have touched a hot stove will never make that mistake again, because they know physically rather than intellectually what the outcome is.
Adolescents and Pre-Teens
Many boys (and some girls) in this age group will want, or already have, a BB or pellet gun. Some have their own rifles for hunting. Even if it’s just a BB gun, you should stress upon the child the importance of safety when handling loaded firearms. BB guns can still cause injury.
If you’ve already taught your child about firearm safety, by this age they should have a healthy respect for the power and seriousness of weapons.
Keep in mind, though, that you can’t assume your child’s friends have had the same instruction. Always secure weapons if your child has friends who frequently visit your home.
Accidents can and do happen. Firearm accidents can be avoided if gun owners take the responsibility to secure their weapons when necessary, and take steps to educate their kids when the children are the appropriate age. It only takes a split second to pull a trigger; take the extra 30 seconds, every time, to properly secure your weapons.