Every parent needs to talk with their kids about gun safety, even if your own family doesn’t own a firearm. Those without guns are much safer, yet are by no means immune to having a child die in a gun accident. Your child can be shot at a friend’s house during a play-date or killed by a peer who brings a gun to school. They can be shot in the dentist’s office or grocery store when another child finds a concealed weapon in someone’s purse. They can find a gun in the ditch or discover one stashed under the seat of a car they are riding in. Every year around 175 youngsters under the age of 14 die from accidental shootings, and no child is safe from the risk. Yet despite these dangers, a poll by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 18% of gun-owning parents and an alarming 52% of non-gun owners have never talked to their kids about gun safety. (Moninger, 2013)
When to talk with kids about guns
Many people don’t realize that a large number of child gun accidents involve extremely young children – kids as young as two-, three-, or four-years-old. It only takes 7 pounds of pressure to pull a trigger, and children’s tiny little fingers can manage this by age one. In the stories we monitor for our websites and research, we come across far more incidents and accidents involving children under age 6 than we do those in the 6 to 12 age group. So it’s never too soon to start talking with your children about guns. Even two-year-olds can pull a trigger, and kids this age have been responsible for many deadly shootings.
How to talk with kids about guns
The conversation on gun safety shouldn’t be a one-time talk, but rather an ongoing dialogue. Here are some easy ways to work this discussion into your everyday routine:
- A good time for a talk is when you see children (your own or others) playing with toy guns or play fighting. Work in a discussion about real versus fake guns, why it’s important not to touch a gun, or what really happens when people pick up a firearm. Familiarize yourself with the information in our Guns for Protection book. You can even divert their play towards more realistic gun use: Have them act out scenes where they shoot themselves in the leg, accidentally kill someone they love, or get angry and use their gun before being hauled off to jail.
- Utilize television and the media. Your child watches anywhere from 5 to 25 violent acts for each hour of television they watch. Make use of it. Point out how many innocent people would have been hit in a crazy gunfight. Talk about how Walking Dead characters would have killed their friends when a bullet traveled through zombie flesh and hit whatever was behind it. Point out the absurdity of hiding behind walls, and talk about how bullets can pass through several walls and still pack enough punch to kill someone. The media is giving your kids a heavily distorted view of guns. Use these opportunities to talk about what really happens.
- Visit or become an email subscriber to our sister site TrueChildSafety.com, and share some of the gun accident stories we feature with your children. It will also make ayou a more well-informed parent in the process.
What you should tell your kids about guns: Some important safety rules
- Explain that not all guns are made to look like actual weapons. Some come in bright colors and can look a lot like toys, which is why it’s important not to touch any gun they find lying around, no exceptions. Tell them to always go get an adult to check it out, and to assume that it’s real until they find out otherwise. Let them know that many kids have been killed because they mistook a gun for a toy. We would strongly recommend you use the real versus fake gun safety discussion pictures, a free printable on our main gun safety page.
- Talk to them about how guns can be unstable. Many of them have what is called a hairline trigger, which means it doesn’t take very much pressure to get them to shoot. People get shot all the time simply because they bump a gun, drop it, or accidentally fumble with it. A gun can also fire when you put it in your pocket or if it gets snagged on your clothing, or if you fiddle with other levers besides the trigger (such as the hammer). This is why they should never so much as touch a gun if they ever find one laying around.
- Be sure to talk with kids about the importance of not pointing a toy gun or a pellet gun at anyone, and especially not police. Kids as young as the latter grades of elementary school have been shot and killed for pointing a toy gun at police. Explain that if you point a pretend weapon at someone else, they might think it’s real and pull out their own gun to shoot at you. This warning is good for all children, but it’s especially important for minorities. You should be discussing this from early elementary school.
- Teach children the danger about bullets as well. Many children do not understand that a bullet without a gun can be just as dangerous. As a child, a friend of mine was shot when he found a bullet on the ground and tried to investigate . . . by bringing it into the basement and holding it up to a candle to look at it.
- Drill it into kids’ heads that if they are ever in the room where a friend or sibling is playing with a gun, they should leave immediately and call for help. Most accidental firearms deaths and injuries hurt the other children in the room, not the one playing with the gun. No matter what the person playing with the gun may say. Children may often get ridiculed for being a wimp or a tattle teller in this situation, but they should just leave the area. Tell them it is more important that they are safe then it is to be ridiculed for not joining in.
Above all, remember that just because you talk with kids about guns this doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to safely securing a firearm. “Children can recite what to do if they find a gun and still do the wrong thing when it counts,” says Raymond Miltenberger, Ph.D., a professor of applied behavior analysis for the University of South Florida. He cites studies published in the journal Pediatrics which found that 4- and 5-year-olds who received verbal safety training didn’t always abide by these precautions when left alone with a gun. (Moninger, 2013) This doesn’t mean safety training is ineffective – it may be the only thing that protects your child if they find an unsecured gun at a friend’s house. But you shouldn’t assume that “the talk” alone will keep them safe.