Millions of Americans live with a gun in their home. In fact, according to recent polls, 44% of respondents say they live in a household with a gun, and 32% say they own a gun themselves.
Every year, 18,000 children and teens are shot and killed or wounded by guns and many of those are deemed unintentional or preventable.
With so much potential exposure to firearms, home gun safety is extremely important in all households but especially those with children.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most effective way to protect your children from gun injuries and death is to keep guns out of the home. However, if you choose to own a firearm, proper storage, safety, and conversations with children can help you prevent a disaster.
Important Statistics to Know
According to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), in 2019, 3,371 U.S. children and teens died from guns — enough to fill 168 classrooms of 20 children. Here are some other statistics related to children and gun-related deaths and injuries:
- In 2018, gun-related deaths surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 19 for the first time in history and remains the leading cause to this day.
- Distress and social isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a 30% increase in unintended shooting deaths by kids from March to December 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019.
- 58% of child and teen gun deaths are homicides and 35% are suicides.
- Cancer, the flu, pneumonia, asthma, HIV/AIDs, and opioids kill fewer children combined than guns alone.
- There are more guns in the United States than there are people.
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Safe Gun Storage
No matter the age of your child, proper gun storage can be your best line of defense from a gun injury or death.
According to a 2021 National Firearm Survey conducted by physician-researchers at Northeastern University, 4.6 million American children live in homes with at least one gun that is loaded and unlocked.
Young children and toddlers are naturally curious, and do not understand the consequences of their actions. Teenagers can act emotionally and may not fully think through consequences if they have quick, unrestricted access to a firearm. Proper storage may prevent them from harming themselves or others.
Safe gun storage includes:
- Storing guns unloaded in a safe or lockbox.
- Storing ammunition in a separate, locked area.
- Keeping access to keys and combination codes away from children.
- Using a trigger lock on all guns.
In addition to practicing safe gun storage in your home, always ask friends and relatives if they have guns and how they are stored before allowing your child to visit their homes.
Safe Gun Use
When using your gun for hunting or target practice, there are a few guidelines that can keep you and your child safe:
- Keep the safety turned on unless you are actively firing the gun.
- Always unload the gun before putting it down.
- Do not let your child take a turn shooting.
If you do decide to let your child use a gun for recreation, we strongly suggest that the child participates in an approved safety course from an expert. Be sure to also explain and demonstrate safe practices in front of your children, including:
- Never handle a gun without a responsible adult present.
- Never point a gun at someone else.
Talking to Children About Gun Safety
Whether or not you have guns in your home, it is your responsibility to teach your children about gun safety. There are four main rules to teach children if they come across a firearm:
- Stop: Do not approach the gun and remember the rest of the rules.
- Don’t Touch: Do not touch the gun, even if it looks like a toy. An undisturbed gun is unlikely to fire.
- Leave: Immediately leave the area where the gun is.
- Tell an Adult: Tell a parent, neighbor, friend’s parent, or a trustworthy adult as soon as you can.
UPMC Children’s Injury Prevention team regularly hosts free firearm safety and storage events in the region. At these events, professionals lead families through safety stations and participating families receive a free firearm safe at the end. Visit chp.edu/injury-prevention/events for the full schedule and to find an event near you.
Connect with UPMC
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.