No matter your stance on gun ownership, it’s important to talk to kids about gun safety. Kids have a natural curiosity about firearms. Without guidance and education, a few minutes or even seconds could result in tragedy.
Firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 19, surpassing motor vehicle accidents for the first time, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, 13 kids die from guns every day from unintentional or accidental shootings and murders.
“Everybody should be shocked by those statistics – 13 kids a day die. That’s too many,” said Kurt Bloomstrand, MD, an emergency medicine physician at OSF HealthCare and Emergency Medical Services director for East Central Illinois EMS.
Dr. Bloomstrand has seen the aftermath of accidental shootings involving children – the physical injuries and the emotional impact on all involved.
“I have personally dealt with a situation where a toddler was involved in an accidental discharge of a firearm. It was a very critical situation. The patient required many resources and the situation weighed heavily on the medical team that was caring for the toddler,” he said. “Situations dealing with gun violence require extra resources and stress to the health care system. This is especially true when it impacts the youth of the communities we serve.
“It seems in recent years we have seen an unfortunate increase in patients with gunshot wounds in our emergency departments and in the emergency medical services (EMS) agencies we oversee,” Dr. Bloomstrand said. “And many of these are accidental shootings that could have been prevented.”
Make gun safety part of the conversation
A national survey reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates 4.6 million kids in the U.S. live with unlocked, loaded guns in the home. Because of this, kids are able to find guns and unintentionally shoot themselves or others. Unsecured firearms are also a leading means of youth and teen suicide.
The best way to avoid firearm-related accidents is to talk to your kids about guns – again and again. Regular conversations will remove the mystery about guns and help them understand how to keep themselves safe.
“I think it is a good idea to make this part of a normal safety conversation that parents have with their children. It is important to keep the language simple when talking about gun safety to a level that kids can understand,” Dr. Bloomstrand said. “It is also important to repeat these conversations on a regular basis with kids so they remember.”
Steps to take:
- Teach your kids about firearms to take the mystery out of them. Explain to children that if they ever come across a gunm they should immediately leave the area and find an adult. Even if they think it might be a play gun. Also, explain not to listen to a friend who says a gun is unloaded or otherwise safe.
- Learn about proper and safe storage of firearms in the home. Guns should be kept unloaded in a locked, secure case or gun safe with ammo stored separately.
Tips for starting the conversation
“Having conversations parent to parent about whether guns in the home are locked and secure is a crucial step,” Dr. Bloomstrand said. “When we see statistics like this, it’s time to act. It’s important to teach gun safety. But most importantly, let’s ask the question – are the guns locked up and are they safe and away from kids?”
Start the conversation with your kids
There are many ways to have the conversation, he said.
When you drop your child at a friend’s home, explain you have a safety checklist. Address a range of things – access to a pool, your child’s nut allergy, whether the pets in the home are friendly and whether there are unsecured, unlocked firearms in the house.
Here are some conversation starters parents can use when talking with other parents:
- Say you saw it on TV when one of the morning shows did a parenting segment. It’s the new “safety” question.
- Say your pediatrician mentioned that guns are the leading cause of death for kids now. She urged us to ask friends if they had any unlocked guns in their home.
- Say a friend asked you if you had any unlocked guns in the house and you thought it was a pretty smart question to ask others.
- Say it’s on your safety checklist – access to a pool, screen-time rules, and, any unlocked guns in the house?
“We can do better in our communities to promote gun safety and training,” Dr. Bloomstrand said. “By holding each other accountable and by asking simple questions regarding gun safety, we can save a life.”