Gun violence has become an urgent public health epidemic in the United States, with firearms accounting for more and more fatalities among children and teens each year. At Memorial Hermann, we are committed to our vision of creating healthier communities, now and for generations to come, but we cannot accomplish our vision without doing all we can to reduce gun violence and its impact on our patients and community—especially the children and teens who are at an increasingly high risk for death, injury or suicide by firearm. Below, our injury prevention experts share general information about firearm safety, best practices for firearm storage and the steps you can take to protect your family from firearm injury.
Children are at an increasing risk of death by firearms through unintentional shootings, suicide and assault. Unintentional firearm injury often occurs when a younger child finds a firearm and accidentally shoots themselves, a playmate or a sibling. Suicide often occurs in children ages 10 and older, and assaults more often occur among adolescents and young adults.
Storing firearms in a safe and secure manner is the best method for preventing firearm injury. Through safe storage, you can reduce the risk of unintentional injury by limiting opportunities for young children to access firearms. Because suicide among children and teens is often impulsive, proper storage provides a barrier of protection and an opportunity for intervention. By locking away your firearms, you also reduce the risk of them being stolen or used in an assault or homicide. To properly store your firearms, experts recommend the following:
Children as young as 22 months old are capable of pulling a trigger, and many children cannot differentiate between a real firearm and a toy. It is critical that parents talk to their children about what to do if they ever encounter a firearm at home, at a friend’s house or in public. Children should never handle a firearm without an adult present, and if a child ever encounters a firearm, they should not touch it and should immediately go to an adult for help.
We also recommend asking about firearm storage in the homes of your children’s friends as well as those of family members or neighbors. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adding the question, “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” to a typical playdate checklist, which might also include concerns about allergies, pets or plans for supervision.
If you personally own a firearm, register everyone in your family for firearm safety classes, which offer age-appropriate education on safe handling, proper use and storage. This is an important step for a responsible firearm owner and can go a long way to preventing unintentional injury or improper firearm use. Still, nothing replaces safe storage, so even families with extensive knowledge and training should keep their firearms and ammunition separate and locked away.
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