Due to a rise in gunshot-related injuries and fatalities seen in our trauma center and hospitals across the country, CHoR’s Children’s Trauma Center has identified gun safety as an area of special focus for children in Virginia. Safe Kids Worldwide estimates that about one-third of households with children under age 17 have a gun in the home, so it is highly likely that at some point your child will visit a home where guns are present. All children – whether they live in a home where guns are present or not – need to be prepared and know what to do should they encounter a gun. Talking to children about this important safety issue is critical to keeping them safe. Here are some tips on how:
Prepare your children: How to talk with kids about guns
Explain that a gun a child might see on television or in a video game is different from a gun in real life: “A gun, in real life, can really hurt people.” Be sure children know that guns are not toys and they should never play with a gun.
Make sure children realize that real guns can look like toy guns and that if they are not sure they should leave the area immediately and check with an adult. Let them know that “real guns” can come in pink and other colors.
Teach children that they should NEVER TOUCH a gun and to immediately leave the area and tell an adult if they see one. There are many resources available to help reinforce these concepts. It can be helpful to discuss this with your child as they color.
Be sure children are aware they should never bring toy or real guns to school and that they should immediately report a classmate who brings a gun (or any weapon) to school.
Teach children to treat every gun as if it were loaded. Lieutenant Jonathan Siok of the VCU Police advises using a simple, clear statement like: “There is no such thing as an unloaded gun. Don’t trust it, don’t touch it, walk away and tell a parent.” Also, make sure children know they should NEVER point a gun at someone else or threaten anyone with a gun.
Take safety precautions: Gun safety is an adult’s responsibility
While talking with children about gun safety is extremely important, taking extra gun safety precautions – and being sure anyone who cares for your child does the same – is also critical for keeping children safe.
“The vast majority of gunshot wounds to children that we care for are due to a weapon in the home being left loaded and unsecured. At a minimum, the issue is not about gun ownership, it is about being responsible in managing any firearms owned. The failure to do so has resulted directly in the death and injury of children. These tragedies are completely preventable,” says Dr. Jeffrey Haynes, Director of CHoR’s Children’s Trauma Center.
Lieutenant Siok agrees about the importance of responsible management: “The responsibility to properly secure firearms always belongs to adults. Always safely secure firearms.” Despite warnings from safety experts, police officers and parents, children simply do not understand how dangerous guns can be. To ensure children are safe at home, follow the safe gun storage practices listed below if you have a gun in your home. To ensure children are safe in all situations, talk with grandparents, babysitters, child care providers and the parents of friends your children visit to be sure they always follow these safe storage practices.
Safe storage practices
Make sure guns are equipped with effective, child-resistant gun locks and be sure to lock the gun at all times it is not in use. The solution is simple, according Lieutenant Siok: “Lock it before you leave it” each and every time.
No matter how soon you plan to take them out again, always store guns in a locked location, unloaded, out of the reach and sight of children. Keep the keys and combinations hidden.
Store bullets in a separate locked location that is also out of reach and out of sight of children. Keep the keys and combinations for this hidden as well.
When a gun is not in its lock box, keep it in your line of sight (and again be sure it is locked and unloaded).
If a visitor has a gun in a backpack, briefcase, handbag or an unlocked car, provide them with a locked place to hold it while they are in your home.
Never leave guns on a nightstand or table, in a coat pocket or purse, under a pillow, or in any other place where a child can gain access. Keep them locked, unloaded and secured.
Dispose of guns you don’t need. If you decide that you no longer need to have a gun in your home, dispose of it in a safe way. Consult with law enforcement in your community on how to do so. Many communities have gun take-back or buy-back events where you can safely dispose of a gun.
“We have seen firsthand the devastating effects a gun accident can have on a child and family, and sadly the number of these incidents occurring continues to be on the rise,” Dr. Haynes said. “We urge you to do everything you can to prepare children and keep them safe from guns. Working together as caregivers and parents we can help ensure better safety for our community’s children.”
Level 1 pediatric trauma center
CHoR is Virginia’s first and only Level 1 pediatric trauma center verified by the American College of Surgeons. CHoR joins 39 centers across the country recognized for demonstrating the highest level of care with pediatric specialists available around the clock to treat the most severely injured children. As a Level I pediatric trauma center, CHoR’s mission is not just to treat children, but to also help prevent injuries. Look for more from CHoR’s safety experts on the important topic of gun safety in the coming months.
Information and resources provided by Corri Miller-Hobbs, Registered Nurse and Safe Kids Virginia Program Coordinator
Safe Kids Worldwide Gun Safety Tips
Elementary School Gun Safety Guidelines and Curriculum