Kids & Guns: What Parents Need to Know
When it comes to guns, no other country is quite like the U.S. Wherever you stand on the firearms debate, the statistics are undeniable: The U.S. has 29.7 homicides by firearm per 1 million people (six times as many as Canada and almost 16 times as many as Germany). The U.S. has 4.4 percent of the world's population, but almost 50 percent of the civilian-owned guns in the world.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 13,243 deaths and 27,102 injuries from gun violence so far in 2017. On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in the U.S.
The gun debate has been reignited yet again following what has become one of the largest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. On Nov. 5, 2017, a 26-year-old white male shooter opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing at least 26 people — including 14 kids — and injuring 20 more. This tragedy came only weeks after the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, when a 64-year-old white male shooter opened fire on a crowd at the Route 91 Harvest festival from his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay.
"We need common-sense gun legislation now more than ever," gun-control activist and founder of Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts, tells SheKnows. "Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than people in other developed nations, and more than 90 people a day die from gun violence, while hundreds more are injured. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. Our country is at a pivotal moment, and volunteers with Moms Demand Action refuse to sit in silence while Americans are killed in movie theaters, concerts, schools, our homes and other spaces where we should all feel safe. It is far too easy for people with dangerous histories to get their hands on guns."
Watts recognizes that owning a gun is a personal decision, but she stresses the importance of responsible storage. "It is a public-safety issue, and it is important to remember that such an onus falls on the shoulders of adults — not children," she says. "Kids and unsecured guns are a potentially lethal combination, but we are determined to help change that. The shocking reality is that we live in a country where every year, nearly 300 children age 17 and under gain access to a gun and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, and nearly 500 more die by suicide with a gun. One of our biggest organizational priorities is to address these preventable deaths and injuries through our Be SMART program, which provides educational training and resources to teach safe storage practices to gun owners and teach non-gun-owning parents how to have the difficult conversation about guns when their children visit other homes."
If you must keep guns in your home, they have to be responsibly secured at all times — away from any unauthorized person, especially a child.
“If you are not in direct control of the firearm, it needs to be locked away," says Mark Luell of Growing Up Guns. "On top of a shelf or under a sofa doesn't count. Think your child doesn't know it's there and can't reach it? Think again." Always store any ammunition separate from any guns — and the "expense" of locking guns away isn't an excuse; you can pick up a combination gun vault for $30.
It's crucial to teach kids what to do if they find a gun, says Shawn Pappas of Suarez International Firearms Training: “Stop. Don’t touch. Get away. Tell a trustworthy adult." An undisturbed gun will not fire, making “don’t touch” vitally important. Kids need to know to “get away” from the gun, even if it means leaving a friend’s home abruptly in the middle of a playdate if they find a gun stuck in a couch. And they need to know whom they can trust to tell, which may not be the person who owns the gun.
Both Luell and Pappas recommend removing any potentially appealing mystery about guns early. In other words, don't keep their existence a secret from your kids. Be sure to make a distinction between any real guns your child sees — in real life or on TV — and toy versions. Always emphasize the fact that guns are not toys, but steer kids clear of both versions if you can.
“All that your children have, especially when they leave your home and supervision, is the knowledge and guidance you have given them,” says Pappas. You have a moral and often legal obligation to give them the tools and information they need for times when you're not around.
For Watts, tackling the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. is a two-pronged approach.
"We need to send a message to the gun lobby that Americans will not sit idly by while they attempt to gut our nation’s gun laws and allow guns everywhere, for anyone — with no questions asked," she says. "And while we fight hard on defense, we also demand solutions that are proven to save lives. Since our founding, we’ve helped to pass 24 bills to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, including eight in the last year alone. Just this week in Rhode Island, Gov. Raimondo signed into law the Protect Rhode Island Families Act, which requires individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors to relinquish their firearms if they own any. We also know that making sure that every gun sale includes a background check can save lives."
While Watts and her supporters fight for public safety, all gun-owning parents have to take responsibility for their choice and do everything they can to ensure their child (and everyone else's) doesn't become a victim of gun violence.