We all know that guns pose a serious risk to children. Every day in the United States, seven children and teens are killed from gunfire and many more are seriously injured. But what many people don’t know is that the place where children should be safest actually poses the greatest risk. Simply put, when it comes to kids and guns, home is where the danger is.
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that children are more likely to be killed by a gun in a home than anywhere else. Among children ages 14 and under, 84% of gun deaths occurred in a home, according to 2012 data from the National Violent Death Report System (the most recent available). This includes homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries.
More than anything else, this data tells us that these deaths can be prevented. Had the guns not been present in the home or had they been stored safely – unloaded and locked, with ammunition stored separately from the guns – many lives could have been saved.
Unfortunately, not all parents recognize the danger. Nationwide, approximately 1.7 million youth live in a home with an unlocked, loaded gun. But there are steps we can take to help families better understand the risks of guns in the home and make safer choices about gun access and storage. We can start by asking two simple questions:
Is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?
All parents should be asking this question. And not just when they are sending their kids on play dates and sleepovers. Parents also need to be sure that their own home is as safe as possible. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest home for children and teens is one without guns. However, if there are guns in the home, they recommend storing them unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked in a separate place.
Is my home suicide-proof?
Parents of teens tend to be less stringent about storing guns safely. But this is a mistake. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents ages 10-19, and over 40% involve a firearm. Parents can reduce their child’s risk of suicide by locking or removing the most lethal and most commonly used methods of suicide, such as firearms and medications, typically found in the home.
Reducing the number of children killed by guns won’t be easy – but it is possible.