Too often children and teens in America die because they or a playmate were able to access a loaded gun in the household. While unintentional firearm fatalities are most often accidents, these tragic losses are all potentially preventable.
One in three homes in America contain a gun. Many of those guns are loaded, unlocked and accessible to toddlers, children and teens. One-third of unintentional firearm deaths claim the lives of people younger than 19 years of age, and nine children or teens are shot every day in a gun incident. Eighty percent of unintentional firearm deaths of children younger than age 15 take place inside a home.
Because unintentional injuries are the most common cause of fatality in young people, pediatricians counsel parents on preventive actions to keep children safe from injuries, such as buckling a child in a properly fitted safety seat and wearing a helmet while riding a bike.
Gun safety is no different. If you live in a household where children and guns coexist, follow these safety tips endorsed by pediatricians:
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▪ Secure all guns in your home and vehicle. This includes both handguns and long guns. Store guns unloaded in a safe, locked location, such as a lock box, out of sight and reach of children and teens.
▪ Store ammunition for the gun in a different location, out of sight and reach of children and teens.
▪ When the gun is removed from its secure location, always have the weapon on your person or directly in sight.
▪ Never rush when returning a gun to its secure location and keep keys in a hidden location.
▪ Always be mindful and aware of the location of the gun, as well as the location of children playing throughout the house. Never should these locations overlap.
One simple action parents can take to address the risk of an unintentional shooting death is having a candid discussion about gun safety with the parent of a child’s playmate.
June 21 is the first day of summer, a time when children play at friends’ homes. On June 21, parents are encouraged — as part of the national ASK campaign — to ask one simple question to ensure their child’s safety: is there an unlocked gun in your household?
Asking this, just like asking about big dogs or peanut butter if your child is allergic, will remind parents in other households to evaluate safety in their house, and allows parents to take protective action if they feel their child is at risk
The month of June marks National Gun Violence Awareness month. Please do your part by asking the right questions or taking action to protect the safety of children in your household from death or injury from an accidental shooting.
Dr. Susan Pollack is a pediatrician at Kentucky Children’s Hospital and the director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Injury Program at the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Research Center.