Why Kids Are at Risk
Some parents think their children are not at risk because they don’t own guns. Other parents think their kids are safe because the kids know “the rules.” All children are potentially at risk of unintentional firearm injury. Know how and why injuries occur, and taking action, can substantially reduce that risk.
Nearly all childhood unintentional shooting deaths occur in or around the home. Half occur in the home of the victim, and nearly 40 percent occur at a friend or relative’s house. Most of these deaths involve guns that have been kept loaded and accessible to children and occur when children play with loaded guns. In one recent study of parents of children ages 4 to 12, more than half reported storing a firearm loaded or unlocked in their home. An estimated3.3 million children in the United States live in households with firearms that are always or sometimes kept loaded and unlocked.
- Nearly two-thirds of firearm-owning parents with school-age children believe they keep their firearm safely away from their children. However, one study found that when a gun was in the home, 75 percent to 80 percent of first- and second-graders knew where it was kept.
- Few children under age 8 can reliably distinguish between real and toy guns or fully understand the consequences of their actions. Yet children as young as age 3 are strong enough to pull the trigger of many handguns.
- Unintentional shootings occur most often when children are unsupervised and out of school. They tend to occur in the late afternoon (peaking between 4 and 5 p.m.), during the weekend, and during the summer months and holiday season.
- Rates of unintentional firearm-related injury are higher in rural areas, where people are more likely to own firearms. Shootings in rural areas are more likely to occur outdoors with a shotgun or rifle; in cities, most shootings occur indoors with a handgun.
- Boys are far more likely to be injured and die from firearm-related incidents than girls. Of children killed in unintentional shootings, nearly 85 percent are male.
- Unrealistic perceptions of children’s abilities and behavior are common factors in these incidents. Parents frequently misperceive a child’s ability to gain access to and fire a gun, to distinguish between real and toy guns, to make good judgments about handling a gun, and to consistently follow gun safety rules.
Other factors change, but there’s one common denominator in every unintentional firearm injury: access to a loaded firearm. The most important thing parents, caregivers and gun owners can do to protect children is reduce their access to firearms and safely store all guns.
Here’s what gun owners can do:
- If you have children in the home, any gun is a potential danger to them. Seriously consider the risks.
- Store firearms unloaded, locked up and out of children’s reach.
- Store ammunition in a separate, locked location.
- Use quality gun locks, lock boxes or gun safes on every firearm. Gun locks, when correctly installed, prevent firearms from being discharged without the lock being removed.
- Keep gun storage keys and lock combinations hidden in a separate location.
- Take a course in using, maintaining and storing guns safely.
Here’s what all caregivers can do:
- Talk to your children about the potential dangers of guns.
- Teach children never to touch or play with a gun.
- Teach children to tell an adult if they find a gun, or call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if no adult is present.
- Check with neighbors, friends or relatives – or adults in any other homes where children visit – to ensure they follow safe storage practices if firearms are in the home.