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04 For Parents


This article is from the Firearms Safety & Children FAQ, by Patrick Casey (pcasey@interart.com) and John Gunshenan (jpg@bbn.com) with numerous contributions by others.

04 For Parents

Like it or not, guns are out there in the world. They are a fact of life,
regardless of whether we keep firearms at home. With guns present in
roughly 50% of US households, your child is likely to encounter a gun at
some point in his or her youth. They may be playing in grandma's attic,
walking down an alley, or playing in the woods. They may be playing at a
friend's house, where the friend says "Hey let's play with my Dad's gun!"
Just as you teach your children about safety with respect to hazardous
materials they are likely to encounter -- electrical outlets, household
chemicals, swimming pools -- so you should teach them the basics of
firearms safety. The most basic gun safety message for children is the
Eddie Eagle message:

If you ever see a gun laying out, even if you think it may be a toy ...

o Stop!
o Don't touch
o Leave the area
o Tell an adult

There is no perfect age to talk with your children about gun safety. You,
the parent, must be the judge (Patrick's children learned the Eddie Eagle
message at age four). For many, a good time to introduce gun safety is when
your child starts acting out "gun play" or asking questions about guns.
Answer his or her questions simply and straightforwardly. If you don't know
the answers, contact a knowledgeable person (for an example of what can
happen by not teaching children about firearm safety, send mail to Patrick).

The great advantage of teaching your children about gun safety is that it
applies outside your own home and teaches a crucial life skill; its
Achilles' Heel is peer pressure. That is why childproofing the guns in
one's home is also essential.

Guns are just one among the many hazards children may encounter in a home.
The only way to tell if a home is child-proofed is to talk with the people
who live there. You really have to openly discuss this. Discreet
investigation will tell you whether the outlets are covered, and whether
there are knives stored openly where children can get them. Some folks take
this a step or two further, and they discreetly look through medicine
cabinets and cupboards for hazards.

Discreet investigation will not tell you whether there are hazards stored
in a bedroom drawer, for instance. A night stand drawer might contain
hazards like medicine, scissors, or a gun. You can't investigate all the
possibilities without violating the privacy of your hosts.

We think you have to talk about childproofing with the homeowner; we don't
see any alternative. Most people will be happy to tell you about what is
and is not childproof. If you raise the issue in a positive and polite tone
of voice, we can't imagine how any reasonable person would take offense. If
they do take offense, I'd watch my children every second they're in that

You could start by saying something like, "Can we talk about childproofing
for a minute? I'm sure your house is generally safe for children, but my
daughter is really good at getting into things. You wouldn't believe some
of the "childproofed" things she's gotten into. Can we just chat about this
for a moment?"

First, ask about any known hazards that you should keep children away from.
Things like this: The shed in the yard is full of power tools. The sewing
room has pins and needles in it, but we keep it locked. The children aren't
allowed to play in area XXX for reason YYY.

Then, go over the standard list of concerns, chemicals & cleaners,
medicine, sharps (knives, scissors, sewing pins & needles, etc.), fragile
glassware on low shelves or tables, swimming pool, busy roads nearby, hand
& power tools, and guns.

I'd present this in an apologetic tone. "Look, we try to train her, but
she's only 2 and she sometimes gets into things she shouldn't. I don't want
her to break your fragile glassware, may I move it to a higher shelf, just
while she's here?" "I don't mean to pry about guns, but you'd be amazed at
how many homes have guns in them! Half the homes in the country! In this
day and age, people feel like they need to protect themselves. etc., etc.
So do you have any in the house? How are they secured?"

Note that you're not asking where they are, or if they're loaded. You're
just asking if they're locked up somehow so that the children can't get to
them. If they tell you, "Don't worry, the guns are unloaded", that's a very
bad sign. Most firearms accidents happen with guns that were thought to be

You may encounter someone who has guns and doesn't know about firearms
safety, how to properly secure their guns, or even how to tell if they're
loaded. A classic example of this is a widow who has her husband's guns in
the house, but doesn't know the first thing about them. In that case, you
can help them out by getting information from the rec.guns FAQ, or putting
them in touch with a group like AWARE (e-mail info@aware.org). The rec.guns
FAQ is accessible via anonymous FTP at flubber.cs.umd.edu (get the file
/rec/FAQ/FAQ1) or via World Wide Web at http://www.recguns.com/.

Even if you do all these things, there might be a gun in the house that one
of the children found in an alley & brought home without telling the
parents. The only way to guard against this is to "gunproof your children"
(see below). You want to do what you can to prevent your child from
encountering a gun without proper supervision, but you have to realize that
you can't control everything. You have to teach your kid to behave safely
around hazardous materials and devices.

FQ) Or Gun Owners, Even Those Without Children

If you choose to own a gun, you must take personal responsibility for
securing it from unauthorized handling, whether by children, guests,
neighbors, or criminals. If you choose to have a gun in your house, every
member of your household should be trained in basic gun safety.

If you choose to keep a loaded gun available for protection, you have a
special (and in some places, legal) obligation to keep that gun secured
from unauthorized handling. This means keeping a solid lock between your
guns and any visitors, whether children or adults. That can be the lock on
your front door (no unsupervised visitors allowed inside, where loaded guns
are out and available), a bedroom door (no visitors allowed in the
bedroom), a closet, a gun cabinet, a safe, or a lock box. The choice is
yours, but choose something.

If you choose to keep a loaded firearm for protection, carefully consider
where to keep it. It is often recommended to keep the gun on your body when
you are awake. This can resolve the dilemma - at the expense of some extra
effort - at least for handguns, at least when you are awake. But many
people cannot or choose not to carry their firearms, so the question of
safe storage arises.

If you keep a firearm near your bed, you want to make sure you'll be wide
awake when you pick it up, so keeping it too close to your bed may be a
problem. You may want to use a lock box, one that you can open by touch,
quickly, under stress, in the dark.


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