It's Worth The Trouble
If You Have Guns At Home, You Have To Store Them Safely For Your Kids’ Sake
Make sure your home stays a safe haven.
Guns are everywhere in America — on TV, in video games, and increasingly in our real lives. It’s hard to know how to talk to our children about gun violence, and harder still to settle our anxieties and theirs about whether or not we’re ever really safe going out in public. So, the idea that we might not be safe at home either is, well, just kind of awful. That’s why safe gun storage is tantamount if you own firearms. The precautions you take could be the only things standing between your kids and serious harm at home.
Why safe gun storage matters
An average of 350 children each year gain access to a loaded firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else (that’s nearly one each day), according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The age groups most likely to unintentionally shoot themselves or others are high schoolers between 14 and 17, followed by preschoolers ages 5 and younger. Nine out of 10 times, the victims are also children, and in most cases, these accidents occur in or around homes.
“Nationally, firearms have become the number one cause of death for children in the United States,” says Dr. John Draus, M.D., medical director of the Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville. Draus has two children and is a gun owner. “In 2020, there were over 4,300 children that died as a result of firearm injuries in the U.S. And then locally, the number of children that we’ve treated and admitted for firearm-related injuries has increased about 33% since 2021.”
A heartbreaking but hopeful statistic: around two thirds of accidental child gun deaths could be prevented if guns were stored safely, according to the American College of Surgeons. The organization says the safest way to store a gun in your home is unloaded and securely locked, with the bullets locked in a separate container.
How to safely store guns if you have kids
“The safest way to keep a gun, if you choose to have a gun in your home, is unloaded, locked with a gun lock, secured in a safe, with the ammunition stored separately in a lock box,” says Dr. Jose Prince, M.D., member of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention at Northwell Health and surgeon-in-chief of Cohen Children’s Medical Center. This method of storage is also promoted by the American College of Surgeons.
You should be certain children can’t enter the safe or lock box, which means keeping combinations or keys away from kids, Draus says. It’s also important for parents to have a safe or lock box so they can offer visitors a place to safely store their firearms while they’re in your home. This way if you’re having coffee together in one room while your child plays in another, you don’t have to worry about them getting into someone’s belongings and getting hurt, Prince says.
When it comes to the ways people might unsafely store their guns, Prince often sees these three scenarios:
- The gun is hidden — in a nightstand drawer, a shoebox under the bed, wherever — and the kids don’t know it’s in the house at all.
- The gun is kept up high, on an elevated surface. Prince uses the example of a friend’s home growing up, in which their police officer dad would come home from work and place his firearm on top of the china cabinet in the dining room. Everyone knew it was there and that they should never, ever touch it.
- The gun is stored up high and hidden, like on a closet shelf in your bedroom.
Of course, there are plenty of families who store their guns this way. Some parents may just not know the expert-approved method, or may have grown up in homes where guns weren’t so locked away. And some parents want guns around for home protection, which in their mind means they should be easy to reach and use in an emergency. Unfortunately, for a gun to be accessible and usable in a crisis, it has to be that way the rest of the time, too.
“There is no in-the-middle for this. Kids will find that gun in the drawer; kids will climb into that closet and play. I see the tragedies that happen, the 3-year-old who finds the gun in the drawer and then shoots themselves or shoots their sibling. By then, it’s too late,” says Prince, who is also a father and recreational shooter. “The world is bad, and folks sometimes believe they need to have a firearm to make themselves feel safe in their home. But the data say something very different from that. That firearm is much more likely to hurt someone in the home than an intruder.”
Should you tell your kids you have guns in the house?
What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right? When it comes to firearms, that’s not the case. Both Draus and Prince encourage parents to be as transparent as possible with their kids about the dangers of guns — the ones at home, the ones out in the world, and the ones that may pop up unexpectedly.
“For families that have firearms and want to store them safely, have those conversations with the kids that [guns are] not to be touched. For kids who don’t have a firearm in their home, but if they ever go to someone’s house and there’s a firearm, teach them to stop, not to touch it, and to run away from it as fast as possible and tell an adult that there’s a gun,” says Prince. “Whether I have a firearm in my home or not, my children will be in homes that have firearms, legal or illegal. And so I think this kind of conversation is important no matter who you are if you’re raising children in the United States.”
This is a conversation you’ll need to have more than once, as the concerns around accessing a gun change with your child’s age. It’s like a pool, Prince says — we fence them and take safety measures to prevent accidental drownings as toddlers, and talk to our teens about not diving in head first or doing back flips into the shallow end. With guns, the conversation should shift from accidental injuries to firearm suicide, Prince says — another heartbreaking reason keeping guns secured is vital for children’s health.
It’s also crucial for parents to ask about how other families store their guns before dropping their kids off for a playdate, experts say. You should go so far as to prepare your children for exactly what to do if they come across an unsecured firearm at a friend’s house, in your own home, or at school.
“Knowledge is power. Have them role play the situation by saying, ‘What would you do if you saw a gun?’ Help them practice before they’re expected to perform,” says Draus. “It’s important to ask middle and high school kids questions like, ‘Have you talked about guns with your friends? Do you think any of your friends have ever carried a gun? What would you do if you saw a gun or knew of somebody that had a gun at school?’ Parent your children so they know what to do, so they’re not surprised and have no recourse when and if they’re ever faced with that type of situation.”
Dr. Jose Prince, M.D., member of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention at Northwell Health and surgeon-in-chief of Cohen Children’s Medical Center
Dr. John Draus, M.D., medical director of the Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital of Jacksonville