Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children. So far this year, more than 150 children unintentionally shot a firearm, and as a result of those shootings, 68 people were killed.
These preventable deaths happen most often in homes — sometimes with firearms parents specifically purchased for protection.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen way too many children finding firearms not secured in the home,” says Chad King, the Midwest Regional Director of the National African American Gun Organization and co-founder of the Safe and Secure Project.
The dad of two also says that the most common injuries in the home come from a negligent discharge of a firearm, which typically happen when the weapon is improperly secured or the handler couldn’t handle the firearm safely.
“Those are the primary sources of injury,” he says.
For more information on how to keep your kids safe around firearms and the facts about gun violence in America, visit our guide to gun safety.
What firearm makes sense for families?
According to the experts, the best type of household firearm really comes down to what works for each family.
“The most popular choices for home defense are some type of handgun or a shotgun,” says Jordan Carlson, a general manager of On Target Range & Tactical Training Center in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
“Hand guns are easy to use for most people and I tell people a handgun is nice because you want to be on the phone with emergency services at the same time,” he explains. “Although the sound of a shotgun is terrifying and that makes sense for intruder situations.”
King adds there isn’t a specific type of firearm that makes more sense than another. It all comes down to how well the handler understands the weapon.
“The firearm that makes the most sense is one that responsible adults in the family can manage and use effectively and train with,” he says. “It can be a hand gun, rifle, shotgun — there isn’t a ‘best’ one — if you have one, make that one the best one.”
How to secure a firearm
It’s estimated that in 2021, 30 million children lived in a home with a gun. Of those children, 4.6 million live in a home with a loaded, unlocked firearm. Responsible gun owners, however, keep their firearms under lock and key.
“First and foremost, you need secure staging and secure storage,” King says. “Secure storage means the gun is unloaded, separated from ammunition and kept in a locked safe or box, while secure staging means the firearm is locked away but it may be loaded or stored with ammunition within the box with the trigger covered and locked.”
“As a family, you have to determine which mode of security you will have for the firearm, and for most people it will be secure storage, not staging,” he adds.
With either method a family chooses, King says some things are non-negotiable.
“You should never purchase a firearm without a way to secure it,” he says. “If you don’t have a safe or lockbox, you need to budget that into the cost of the gun.”
Families can purchase firearm cabinets and safes with key access, combination codes or biometric access, like fingerprints. Caregivers looking for more tips on properly securing firearms can read more here.
How to talk to kids about firearm safety
Sharon Sineni, a general manager of On Target Range & Tactical Training Center, says she raised her three children to understand the ramifications of improper use of a firearm — and she suggests other parents do the same.
“I’m a direct person and I believe kids need to be told from a young age exactly what can happen,” Sineni says. “The conversation has been the same from the time they were 7 and up.”
“Our children have been told that guns will kill, to never point a gun at something unless they intend to kill it and not to touch it unless a parent is there,” she adds.
Many gun ranges in the Midwest offer youth safety courses where kids will learn the four basic rules of gun safety:
- Treat all guns as if they are loaded
- Do not point a gun at something unless you intend to destroy it
- Keep your finger off the trigger and outside of the trigger guard
- Be aware of what is around the target
Teaching firearm education to children is a healthy way to expose kids to firearms, which King says can help keep them safe.
“Don’t insulate children from firearm education — you want to mute that curiosity with exposure in a safe and responsible way,” he says. “We teach kids first that if they come across a gun to stop in their tracks, don’t touch the gun, then leave the area and tell a responsible adult.”
Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram.