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Subject: misc.kids FAQ on Firearms Safety & Children

This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:23:05 GMT

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FIREARMS SAFETY & CHILDREN Collection maintained by: Patrick Casey (pcasey@interart.com) and John Gunshenan (jpg@bbn.com). Last updated: June 2, 1998 --------------------------------------------------------------------- Copyright 1998, Patrick Casey and John Gunshenan. Use and copying of this information are permitted as long as (1) no fees or compensation are charged for use, copies or access to this information, and (2) this copyright notice is included intact. --------------------------------------------------------------------- To contribute to this collection, please send e-mail to Patrick or John, and ask us to add your comments to the Misc.kids FAQ file on Firearms Safety & Children. Please try to be as concise as possible, as these FAQ files tend to be quite long. And, unless otherwise requested, your name and e-mail address will remain in the file, so that interested readers may follow-up directly for more information/discussion. For a list of other FAQ files, look for the FAQ File Index posted regularly to misc.kids. PREFACE Owning a firearm is a very personal choice. In the document that follows, we make no attempt to persuade the reader to own or not own them. No matter how we feel about firearms, it is imperative that we teach our children the basics of firearms safety. Even if there is never a gun in your home, there may be one in a friend's, neighbor's or a relative's home. Not teaching your children the basics of firearms safety is like not teaching them how to swim, or not teaching them to avoid hazards such as hot, sharp or pointed things. Children are curious. When it comes to firearms, uninformed children are likely to get hurt! Let us not let our politics blind us to ways to enhance the safety of our children. INTRODUCTION We are not experts in child firearms safety. We are simply two readers of the rec.guns newsgroup who felt a FAQ should be developed on this subject. One of the rec.guns readers suggested that we cross-post this FAQ to the misc.kids newsgroup, as our FAQ is addressed to parents who do not own firearms as much as to those who do. Patrick is the father of two children (ages ten & twelve), and is also an NRA Certified Instructor. John has a five-year-old, and is also an NRA Certified Instructor and a "We are AWARE" instructor (AWARE = Arming Women Against Rape and Endangerment). What we offer below are simply our opinions. However, if you have children or own firearms, we suggest that you think about the issues that follow. While Patrick and John are the compilers of this FAQ, they are not its authors. Credit in that department goes to the various authors listed at the end, and to the many rec.guns readers who helped develop it. This is a much better document for all the time, energy, and keystrokes donated by the rec.guns readership. CONTENTS -- Children & Guns: Some Basic Facts -- For Parents -- For Gun Owners, Even Those Without Children -- For Gun Owners With Children -- Gunproofing Your Children -- Additional Resources CHILDREN & GUNS: SOME BASIC FACTS Department of Justice data indicate that there are over 200 million firearms in the United States, with guns present in roughly 50% of US households (the percentage is higher in rural areas, lower in cities). Even if you do not own firearms, chances are you have been in houses where firearms were kept. If you have children, chances are they too have been in houses where firearms were kept. Don't expect to be told that there are firearms in the house. Because of the current political climate, many law-abiding gun owners are quite discreet about their ownership. They tend not to advertise it. According to the National Safety Council, 230 children under the age of 15 were killed in firearms-related accidents in 1991, the latest year for which figures are available. Since 1930, the number of annual fatal firearms accidents has decreased 55%, while the population has doubled and the number of privately owned firearms has quadrupled (National Safety Council, U.S. Census, BATF). While this decline in accidents is good, 230 accidental fatalities is 230 too many. What follows are some things you can do -- as a parent or as a gun owner -- to "gunproof" your children, and to "childproof" your guns. 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 house. 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 unloaded. 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. FOR 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. FOR GUN OWNERS WITH CHILDREN In the home, nothing can or need be left to chance. There is no reason or excuse for exposing children to danger from firearms in the home. Obviating this danger by discipline and readily available safety measures is the first responsibility of the gun owner with children. This can be done, even if you keep or carry a loaded firearm readily available for defense. The few terrible circumstances of children killed or injured with a parent's gun betray unconscionable and utterly avoidable safety violations, failures of discipline and responsibility. If you have children, and if you choose to own firearms, you have an obligation to teach your children about gun safety. There are lots of approaches that don't work, such as: -- Hide it (they'll find it) -- Get a gun that's too hard for a child to operate (they'll use tools or full-body leverage to operate it) -- Get a gun with a magazine safety & keep the magazine on you (God help you if they ever get hold of a magazine) -- Fancy gadgets such as plastic rods, rubber bands, pinch-to-open trigger guards, etc. On the one hand, you can still make some things "go bang" with many of these, and most manufacturers do not intend their products to be used on loaded firearms. On the other, over-reliance on these devices tends to underestimate the ability of children to find keys, use tools, etc. (see Lyn Bates' excellent article "Keeping the Piece" below) -- Always keep the gun on your person (and hope you never dream about having a gun fight) Trigger locks can be of some help. They are inexpensive, easy to install, and provide some level of safety. They are much better than relying on "hiding" your weapon or doing nothing at all, but don't rely on them exclusively. You don't want to use them on loaded weapons, and most of them don't prevent weapons from being loaded. If you rely on them exclusively, what will happen when your child finds the key? Also bear in mind that keys are too hard to manipulate in the dark, or under stress. But trigger locks can be effective with small children, and in conjunction with other safety measures. Similarly, a lockbox or gun cabinet can be helpful; just beware of relying on them exclusively. They can be opened by a 12-year-old using simple, household tools (again, see "Keeping the Piece" below). The most secure way to store firearms is no doubt a safe. Borrowing liberally from Henry Schaffer's excellent summary "Gunsafes" (for the full text of "Gunsafes", see the rec.guns FAQ), gun safes are made of fairly heavy gauge steel, with special attention paid to hinges, multi-point locking devices, pry-resistance, hard-to-defeat locks, and weight. The low end of the safe category will weigh a few hundred pounds and will cost perhaps $600 - $1,000 depending on how it is outfitted. The casual burglar with a crowbar -- or an inquisitive child -- is unlikely to be able to penetrate this type of safe. At the same time, a safe is virtually impossible to access quickly, under stress, and in the dark. A $600, 250+ pound safe may be pretty close to childproof, but many people can't afford them. The next step down from safes is a "gun cabinet," with prices starting at about $100. Again, using Henry's overview, these are metal cabinets, built about as strongly as an office file or stationary cabinet, with a key lock which latches the door. They can be opened with a crowbar/prybar, or with an ordinary drill, but this type of entry would show obvious damage. In this case you would be counting on a child's reluctance to damage the cabinet as a deterrent. However a break-and-enter burglar who is after the VCR, jewelry (and who probably carries a crowbar) will not be deterred by this and will probably get the cabinet open in a very few minutes. In this same category should be included the neighborhood teenager-gone-bad type of criminal. Like safes, they are difficult to access quickly, under stress, and in the dark. Both safes and cabinets have the drawback that you can't open them in a hurry, under stress, in the dark. Better in that respect are lockboxes. There are several good ones on the market with fast-access, push-button, combination locks that are reasonably child-resistant and easy to manipulate in the dark (again, see "Keeping the Piece" below). However, in our opinion, there is only so far you can go with "childproofing the gun." Even better is "gunproofing your children." GUNPROOFING YOUR CHILDREN "Gunproofing your children" means teaching them that guns are not toys, and teaching them firearms safety and responsibility. Nothing left to a child's discretion is fail-safe, especially where peer pressure may reign. But training your children in the basics of firearms safety gives them a better chance of escaping danger or harm should they ever encounter a gun beyond your control, a better chance than children still in the thrall of fatal curiosity, awe, and ignorance. In movies and television, guns are icons of power. The good guys have them, and use them to restore right and order. Even on the old "Adam 12" TV show, these two quintessential Officer Friendly types had more gunfights in one season than most big city police do in their whole careers. Not only does the mass media present a distorted view of the frequency of firearms use, it is even worse when it comes to teaching judicious use, proper sporting use, and gun safety. For small children, the first thing to teach them is the Eddie Eagle message (stop, don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult). This can be taught as early as age three or four. As they get a little older -- and after they understand and practice the Eddie Eagle rules -- teach them the basics of safe firearms handling. There are four firearm safety rules taught by Jeff Cooper of the American Pistol Institute. Follow these rules and you cannot ever have a mishap. Even if you violate one of them, you are still all right; it takes multiple errors to cause an accident. 1. All guns are always loaded 2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy 3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target 4. Be sure of your target and what's beyond it (for more on these basic points, send mail to Patrick) Many gun owners use the natural curiosity of their children as an opportunity to teach gun safety. At Patrick's house, for example, the children can see and handle firearms whenever they ask. We first review the Eddie Eagle rules, then the golden rules of firearms safety. Then the guns come out. Questions are often asked -- how does this part work? what does that do? If any safety rules are broken -- even inadvertently -- the guns get put away. Another good thing to do early on -- and repeat from time to time -- is to take the children to a shooting range to demonstrate what a gun will do to a milk jug, liter-sized Coke, or watermelon. Children know that the people they see getting shot in movies are actors, and that after "getting shot," they later get up and go home. Shoot a water-filled milk jug with a .357 pistol or a 12-gauge shotgun. Have the child hold that (shredded) milk jug up to their chest. Help them understand that, while shooting can be lots of fun and a recreational activity they can practice into their 90s, guns are not toys; their power must be respected. Also, think about using cleaning as an opportunity to teach gun safety. If you try to 'hide' your gun cleaning by always doing it after the children go to bed, you will only increase their curiosity (they'll eventually catch you anyway). Don't do things that encourage them to get into the guns when you're not around. I almost always clean my guns when the children are around, and they often ask to help. Here's another chance to go over the Eddie Eagle rules, the golden rules of safety, and to respond to their natural curiosity (also a way for mother or father to get some free help). Allowing the children to assist in such a 'grown up' activity may also increase their general maturity level, build pride in competence, and improve general safety awareness and practice. A note of caution though ... if your children help with gun cleaning, make sure they wash their hands with soap afterwards. While most of what you clean up is powder residue, be especially careful about the small amounts of lead that might be cleaned out. If the children help with cleaning, make sure they wash their hands and faces -- with soap -- afterwards. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES Here are some sources of additional information. -- The Eddie Eagle program is a set of non-political gun safety materials designed specifically for children. The materials includes coloring books, posters, videos, as well as instructors materials. They are available in three levels (pre-school to grade 1; grades 2-3; grades 4-6) in both English and Spanish. For her role in developing Eddie Eagle, then NRA vice president Marion Hammer received the National Safety Council's 1993 Citation for Outstanding Community Service for leadership in program development. The program has also received commendation from the American Legion's National Committee on Education, is endorsed by the Police Athletic League and is used by numerous organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Schools, law enforcement agencies and civic groups interested in the Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program can contact the NRA at 1-800-368-5714. -- "Keeping the Piece" is an excellent article on children and gun storage, written by Dr. Lyn Bates and published in Women&Guns magazine, June 1993. Back issues cost $3 each, and can be ordered by calling 716-885-6408. Keeping the Piece is also available electronically, courtesy of the author, by sending mail to Patrick. -- "Gunproof Your Children," by Massad Ayoob, Police Bookshelf, 1986, $4.95, phone: 800-624-9049 -- "Kids & Safety" (chapter 8 of "Armed & Female," by Paxton Quiqley, E.F. Dutton, 1989, $4.99) -- "Gun Safety" (chapter 16 of In the Gravest Extreme, by Massad Ayoob, Police Bookshelf, 1980, $9.95, phone: 800-624-9049) -- Children and Guns: Sensible Solutions, by David Kopel, 1993, Independence Institute, phone: 303-279-6536, $12.00 -- "A Parent's Guide to Gun Safety," 1992, available at no charge from the National Rifle Association. Call 1-800-368-5714 and ask for the Safety and Education Division