The story is all too familiar: a child finds an unsecured gun, gets curious and fires it, killing himself or someone else.
It happened in a Miami suburb in April, when a 3-year-old boy was playing with a loaded handgun and accidentally shot his 33-year-old mother in the back, killing her.
And this week in St. Louis, 3-year-old Lilianna Moore found a loaded gun between two mattresses in a bedroom and accidentally shot herself in the head. She died of her injuries. Lilianna’s father was visiting a girlfriend at the time, leaving the child home alone, according to KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis. He and another adult in the home may face charges in the child’s death.
The rate of firearms deaths among children under 15 years old is 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined, according to statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics appear in a gun safety report authored by the University of Michigan Health System.
Regardless of their age, children are fascinated by guns. They see them used in video games, on television and in the movies. But gun safety advocates say adults who own guns should never keep them within reach of children. Keeping a loaded gun within arm’s reach of a child or teenager is an accident waiting to happen, they say.
If you’re going to keep a loaded gun in your home, you should invest in a gun lock, said Detroit police investigator Kimree Beckem. Some cities and counties offer these devices to gun owners free of charge. Wayne State University in Detroit also provides them, she said. The 15-year police veteran strongly recommends storing guns in a locked safe, especially when adults are not in control of the gun.
“People think that telling a child not to touch a gun is enough,” she said.
“My children know not to touch our guns but their friends may be curious,” Beckem said. “You never know what peer pressure will lead a kid to do.”
Kids are fascinated by guns for a number of reasons, she said. “They know they go boom but they don’t know how final that is or how it can hurt someone.”
Gun owners should realize their weapons not only pose a threat to their children, but to children and teenagers who visit their home. Experts recommend that parents ask about the presence of weapons in the homes their children visit.
BB guns, pellet guns and air rifles can also cause serious injury to children, according the University of Michigan study.
“Playing with toy guns could make it easier for your child to mistake a real gun as a toy,” researchers wrote.
Edward Davis is a 29-year-old gun owner in Atlanta with a 5-year-old son. When his son or other children are around, Davis locks his gun in the glove compartment of his car or keeps it in his top drawer. He is careful to remove the clip from his weapon — which he owns for protection.
“It is never around my son, period,” he said. Children are curious and he doesn’t want to take any chances.
While keeping a gun in a nightstand might seem like the best way to fend off an intruder during a home invasion, it gives young children easy access to a weapon. Some adults don’t believe young children will find their guns, much less use them.
That’s why a group of Florida doctors has a judge to halt enforcement of a new state law that keeps them from asking parents about the presence of guns in their homes. The doctors believe the law violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.
“Pediatricians simply want to do what they do best: protect children. We hope that we will be able to get back to the business of asking parents to keep their guns, pools and poisons where they can’t harm kids,” said Lisa A. Cosgrove, president of the Florida Pediatric Society, in a news release.
Other gun safety measures include:
Hiding the keys to locked firearm and ammunition storage boxes
Keeping the location of your gun storage unit secret
When cleaning or handling a gun, never leave it unattended, not even for a moment.
Teach your children never to touch guns. Make sure they know guns can be dangerous.
Talk to your children about the difference between TV and video game violence and real life violence.
Source: University of Michigan Health System