4.6 million US children live in homes that have guns that are unsecured.
- Gun injuries are the second leading cause of death for children in the US.
- American kids are 11 times more likely to die from gun violence than children in other developed countries.
- Every year, nearly 300 children age 17 and under gain access to a gun and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, and nearly 950 more die by suicide with a gun.
Many of these deaths are entirely preventable with responsible gun storage.
Every adult has the right to decide whether or not to keep a gun in the home, but steps need to be taken to keep children safe.
We know we can keep our kids safer by introducing these
FIVE EASY STEPS to parenting and everyday life:
1. Secure Guns in Homes and Vehicles
This is the single most important measure we can take to keep children safe. This means guns should be stored locked and unloaded with ammunition stored separately. Hiding it high in the closet or in a drawer is not enough. One study showed that 70% of kids under 10 knew where their parents stored guns and 35% had admitted to handling the gun without their parents’ knowledge.
2. Model Responsible Behaviors Around Guns
If you choose to use guns, always point them in a safe direction, treat every firearm as if it is loaded, be sure of your target and what’s beyond it, and don’t rely on your gun’s safety. Our children are watching. Teach them to never touch a gun, even if they think it might be a toy, and to run away and tell a grown up if they ever find a gun. But remember, it is always an adult’s responsibility to keep kids safe. We can’t rely on curious children to not touch a gun even with education.
3. Ask About Unsecured Guns in Other Homes
This includes play dates, family members and baby sitters. Asking about unsecured guns in other homes should start with young children and continue into teen years. Teens who babysit should also be encouraged to ask about guns in the home. Make it part of a general safety conversation. Include it with topics like food allergies, pets, water safety, bike helmets. Volunteer information about your own home first. Use text or email to make the conversation feel less uncomfortable. “We don’t keep guns in our home, but I know many do. My child is very curious and I always worry he will get into something dangerous. If you have guns in your home, may I ask how they are stored?” If the other parent isn’t forthcoming with information, or discloses that they have unsecured guns in the house, then offer to have a play date at your house or at a playground. If it is a family member or babysitter, make it clear that your child will not be able to go to their home until proper storage is obtained. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but it is worth it for your child’s safety.
4. Recognize the Risks of Teen Suicide
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. Guns are the most lethal method for suicide, resulting in death 85% of the time. Studies show that unsecured guns in the home are a more significant risk factor for suicide than psychiatric illness because suicide is impulsive. Many adults feel that teens "know better" than to touch guns, but unfortunately guns from the home are commonly used in teen suicides.
Signs of Suicidality:
Changes in mood or behavior
Loss of interest in school, friends, hobbies
Talking about suicide, death, or "when I'm gone"
Drug and alcohol use
If any of these or other warning signs are noted in a child/teen (or even adult) seek help immediately and make sure there are no weapons or medications accessible in the home.
Your doctor is always the best contact, but the websites below are also excellent resources.
Fairfax County Mental Health Services
If you go to "online and in person trainings" on this website, you can find training for adults
on how to talk to kids and teens who are exhibiting concerning signs and symptoms.
Loudoun County Children & Youth Services
Prince William County New Horizons Programs
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to
FREE, 24/7 support and information
National Alliance on Mental Illness
5. Tell your peers to Be SMART
Share these tips with friends and family to help keep kids safe!
If we follow the steps above, we can help keep our children safer and
prevent child and teen gun deaths. Please remember to Be S.M.A.R.T!
Please visit besmartforkids.org for more information on these steps or to find a live presentation discussing this important child safety issue.
The National Sports Shooting Foundation also has a program called "Project Child Safe"
that is another excellent resource for gun safety
Guns in the Home - an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics,
A 2019 Study shows household gun ownership can pave the way
Lauren Morea, DO, is both a Pediatrician and the mother of two small boys. Keeping her children, her patients, and all children safe is her main priority. As the Gun Violence Prevention Champion for the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is passionate about education and safety practices to protect our children from weapons. Dr. Morea has led Be SMART training lectures for the Pediatric Residency Program at INOVA and presented for many non-medical groups as well. She has lobbied the state legislature to strengthen the laws to keep children safe from guns. Please feel free to contact our office if you have questions regarding this important safety topic.
for a high suicide rate among young people.