More than 500 U.S. children 17 or younger were killed or injured as a result of a firearm accident in just the first 2 months of 2017, a statistic that’s led to such groups as the American Academy of Pediatrics urging parents to keep their homes gun-free. Whether you practice or protest your Second Amendment rights, such data should be unnerving. No, it doesn’t mean gun-owning parents need to relinquish their weapons, it just means they need to be more aware than ever of the safety measures they take and what they teach their children about firearms.
Steve Sanetti is CEO of the firearms manufacturers trade group National Shooting Sports Foundation, whose Project ChildSafe gun safety program has distributed 37 million firearm safety kits while sharing responsible firearm practices. He says that gun safety comes down to storing firearms properly and teaching kids to understand and respect them. Here’s his advice on how to do just that.
Teach Them To Understand Guns
To a kid, guns are fun things that some of their favorite cartoons and video games display on a daily basis. That stigma needs to change. “A gun is something that can do terrible things if you’re not careful,” says Sanetti. “But it’s something that can be enjoyed if you use it safely and responsibly.” That means you have to teach your child to fear and respect firearms. They need to know that guns are dangerous, deadly weapons. And they need to know that if they find one, they should keep away from it and tell an adult as soon as possible. “You have to know that you should never touch a firearm of any kind,” Sanetti says.
Lock It Up
Yes, you know this. But Sanetti says it bears repeating: You’ve got to lock up your guns. If you don’t, your kid will find it and it will go off. Gun safety experts estimate that using gun locks and other such safety devices could prevent 31 percent of accidental shooting deaths.
How you store and secure your guns obviously depends on your budget and the number of guns you own. But at the very least, you need to use the locking devices that come with most new handguns. Additionally, many police departments give out Project Childsafe’s cable-style locks for free. Keep multiple guns? Get a lockbox or safe. “Any of these things can be effective in keeping little fingers away from firearms,” says Sanetti.
In fact, studies show that the safest way to keep guns in the home is to lock up your weapons and ammunition separately. But, per Sanetti, if you want your gun ready for use during a break-in or home invasion, purchase a lockbox or safe with fingerprint detection or one that can only be opened with a button code. Sanetti urges you to remember electronic safes and lockboxes need electricity — plug them in or keep the batteries fresh to make sure you get to your gun when you need it.
Let Them Pull The Trigger
Firing a gun teaches a visceral lesson about the destructive potential of firearms. “Even if it’s a 22, you jump 3 feet off the ground,” Sanetti says. “They don’t expect it to be that loud, they don’t expect it to have that recoil or any of that. That’s a good teaching point.” Tell them the gun is a powerful instrument that you need to be careful with. If it aerated that tin can, let them imagine what it can do to a person.
When Is Your Kid Ready To Shoot? That Depends on the Kid
Sanetti says there’s no hard-and-fast rule about what age to teach kids how to shoot. You need to assess your child’s maturity, responsibility, and judgment before trusting them with a gun. And be prepared to say no. Not every teen can be trusted with handling one. “Frankly, I’ve had some kids well into their teens that my friends have asked me to teach them to shoot and I’ve politely declined the invitation because I didn’t think their son was mature enough to go shooting with us,” says Sanetti.
Careful Where You Point That Thing
The 2 main things kids need to know about handling a gun? First: “Never, ever point a gun at a person or anything that you aren’t prepared to kill at that time,” says Sanetti. The second? “Don’t touch the trigger until the gun’s pointed in a safe direction, and I tell you to put the finger on the trigger.” Kids need to have these rules engrained in them before ever stepping foot on a firing range.
Watch Out for Other People’s Guns
Don’t own a gun? Well, you still have to talk to your kids about them. Considering one in 3 American households are armed, that means you can’t afford to pretend guns don’t exist. “Maybe they’re not in your home, but they’ll be in other homes that children will visit,” Sanetti says. “Kids need to know the basic rule: if you see a gun, don’t touch it and don’t play with it. Like most things, pretending guns don’t exist instead of educating kids about them is foolish and can lead to a totally preventable tragedy.”