Are guns in the home keeping your children safe?

Do you think guns in the home make your children safer? It’s usually not the case. Last January, high school student Anthony Krueger locked himself in his room and shot himself under the chin twice after his mother called the police about his drug use.  Stories like this highlight that one of the largest risk factors for teen suicide is the presence of a gun in the home. 

In Krueger’s case, the 17-year-old from Dover, Del. survived, but faces a long slow recovery from his injuries . Without access to a gun, an emotional argument can lead to broken doors and objects, screaming, tears and even a fist fight, but rarely does it end in death.  With a gun present, the circumstances change.

Krueger’s mother had bought the gun for protection, and allowed him access so he could “protect” his younger siblings while his mom was at work.  His suicide attempt was featured in a Wilmington News Journal article earlier this month that looked at an adolescent suicide cluster in the state last year.

The reality is that guns really don’t offer any protection. They only offer risk if children are present.  Research in several US urban areas indicates that a gun stored in the home is associated with a threefold increase in the risk of homicide and a fivefold increase in the risk of suicide.

If you really want to protect your children from harm, follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and get rid of any guns at home.  It would be a good start.  If you can’t do that, then lock the unloaded guns in one place and lock the ammunition in another place. That almost makes your kids safe from those guns. Most importantly, never let your kids have access.

The real dangers to children are fire, drowning, and accidents, not armed intruders. We need to teach kids to avoid strangers, call 911 for any emergency, and have a safe haven such as a neighbor’s house to run to if they are threatened.   Take time to make sure that they know how to swim, not to shoot.  They are more likely to get into trouble in the pool, river, lake or shore, and then they are to confront an armed assailant. 

Make sure they know basic first aid, and what to do if another child gets hurt. Be certain that your smoke detectors are loaded with fresh batteries instead of worrying about fresh ammo for your handgun. If they need to learn a skill, teach them how to use a fire extinguisher to put out a kitchen fire, after they first call 911.

It’s interesting that some parents give their older teens access to guns to protect their families, but these same kids can’t swim, won’t wear bike helmets or seatbelts, and would be clueless if a fire broke out in the kitchen.  A gun won’t save them from being burned, drowned or crushed.  Other safety training can save their lives.

Guns don’t make our children safer, they make their world more dangerous.  If you own one or more guns, make them as safe as possible.  Give your children safety training to deal with real threats, and not the imagined dangers that those who sell guns talk about.

President Obama’s recommendations about guns emphasize the importance of safe gun ownership in a free and open society.  He has endorsed ongoing research on gun deaths to help prevent needless tragedy, and endorsed our First Amendment rights, as healthcare providers, to talk to parents who own guns about how to minimize the risks in the home.   A national safe and responsible gun ownership plan will go a long way to help families make informed decisions and assure their children’s safety.

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