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Monitor Board of Contributors: Here’s how to keep kids safe from guns

Several months ago my medical practice wrote a letter to the editor about gun control after yet another shooting in a school. We expected some discussion in the letters to the editor column about our stance, yet there was none. Did readers agree with us that gun checks were in order to protect our children and ourselves – or are they so jaded that they just didn’t care to respond?

Once again the topic of guns is on my mind. It started when I saw an episode of 20/20 about children and guns. It included facts like these:

∎ A child is taken to the ER for a gun injury every hour.

∎ One in three houses has a gun on the premises.

∎ These guns are most often located in the parents’ bedroom and, even more concerning, many of them are loaded.

∎ Some guns have a safety, but many are loaded and ready to shoot at the touch of the trigger.

The episode went on to show instructors telling young students about the dangers of guns and to never touch them. The teachers even showed the children an NRA video that outlined what to do if they found a gun and specifically told them to go get an adult and never touch the gun. They then showed the students marching around singing a song about these rules, and all the children had it down perfectly.

They then put children in a room in groups of two or three with unloaded guns in backpacks or on the table. After a few minutes, all the boys under the age of 10 picked up a gun. Several looked down the barrel while holding the trigger. At least three boys pulled the trigger just to see if there were any bullets in the gun. Other boys pointed the guns at their friends. Interestingly, all but a few of the little girls yelled “gun, find an adult” and left the room in search of an adult.

The good news was that two 10-year-old boys pulled their younger peers away from the guns and said to not touch but to get an adult.

What does this tell us about guns and children? They can’t overcome their natural curiosity, even when they have been taught that guns are dangerous. In order to make guns even more enticing to children, weapons made specifically for children are painted pink and multicolored. Children who saw these guns said they thought they were toys and not real.

Also, children younger than 10 don’t really understand death or the finality of it. That is one reason we tell parents not to say that people “go to sleep” when they die, as that is what young children actually believe. So we can’t “teach” children that age to be safe around guns. We must lock guns up and keep ammo in a separate area so a child never has the chance to encounter a loaded gun.

Another dangerous age group around loaded guns is teenagers. Teens are by nature inquisitive and impulsive. They also have a feeling of invulnerability. This is all normal for the age group. If teens didn’t have these qualities, they wouldn’t have the courage to make all the changes that are required of them during these years.

Teens also must deal with difficult growing experiences such as stress at school and home, peer pressure and their first serious relationships. Sometimes these issues lead a teen to become depressed; in such cases, a loaded, easily accessible gun in the home could lead to an impulsive, fatal event. This has happened in past years in our own community, and the pain of such an event can never be erased. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people age 10 to 34.

New Hampshire has a large hunting community, and some of my own family members enjoy hunting. They are responsible gun owners who lock their unloaded guns and keep the ammo locked away in a separate area. Their children don’t know how to get in the locked gun cabinet and only hunt with a responsible adult.

So how do you keep a child safe?

First, be a responsible gun owner.

Second, ask if your neighbors have guns and if they are unlocked in the house. Also, if your child is visiting a friend, don’t be afraid to ask if there are guns in the house. I asked every time my son went to visit a friend. Usually the answer will be no, but if the answer is yes, at least make sure the guns are locked up so your child is safe. The few minutes you spend in a discussion about gun safety may be the minutes that save your child’s life!

(Dr. Patricia Edwards of Bow is a pediatrician and president of Concord Pediatrics in Concord.)

Legacy Comments21

I agree with Dr. Edwards. Gun owners who keep a loaded gun handy and at the ready are NOT being responsible gun owners. It's too easy and tempting for any child, no matter how well taught, to want to handle that gun. Two issues not raised in this thread are those of domestic violence and suicide. Easy access to a loaded gun makes both more likely to end in tragedy. There are more gun deaths by suicide than there are gun homicides. The suicide attempts of troubled and impulsive adolescents, depressed adults, the elderly in failing health, are far more likely to end tragically when a gun is used. I think a gun safe or gun lock should be standard issue with every gun sold.

The true problem with guns is that responsible gun owners are far outnumbered by irresponsible gun owners. Unfortunatly there is no legal way to tell them apart other than by their actions. There are many people out there who would not pass a test that measures their stability or knowledge regarding firearm safety.

Hi All, First of all the vegetarian conversation was interesting but I'm not sure how it related to my article. Second the facts I mentioned are real and true and I used the 20/20 show as an opening to a discussion on gun safety. Regardless of whether one agrees with what was shown on 20/20 it was unnerving and does show that we need to be concerned about how children react to guns. If you noticed my REAL message is that parents and other adults need to be responsible in their gun ownership and that locking guns when children are around is ALWAYS a reasonable step to take. And, yes, I did ask when my children went to other people's houses about guns as I don't know how they are safe with their guns and my children weren't raised in a house with guns so had no experience with them. Thirdly this was not an article about gun laws or restrictions. You may notice that I mention that some of my family hunt, own guns, and are responsible gun owners. I feel that everyone who wants to own and use a gun can do so in a responsible way and that is my main message.

It is hard to talk about guns without it moving onto killing. Whether animals or people, because after all that is what guns are meant to do. Children will always be fascinated by guns or matches or a locked drawer, any thing they are not supposed to touch. And they like to show off to their friends, so it is always better to be safer than sorry.

NEWS on Guns you wont read here......your Big Govt - DHS Contracted To Purchase 704 Million Rounds of Ammo - $285,356,645 for the 704,390,250 rounds ....... Social Security Administration To Purchase 174 Thousand Rounds Of Hollow Point Bullet ...... ...... National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also purchased 72,000 rounds of .40 Smith & Wesson...... Postal Service Announces Giant Ammo Purchase . The Education Dept. has spent over $80,000 so far on Glock pistols. The federal Department of Education doesn't employ a single teacher but it does have a SWAT team. ......... scared of Obama yet?

The only over population is the human population taking away the natural habitat of animals. Of course there is an over population of domestic animals, but that is because there is not enough spaying and neutering, not because people are not shooting them.

Tillie, Tillie, Tillie. I'm with you that there are too many humans on the planet. Far too many. But since we haven't invented the time machine yet - we must deal with REALITY. The REALITY is that we have less wildlife habitat and in many cases have replaced what was wildlife habitat with something that is BETTER than wildlife habitat in terms of quantity and quality of preferred plant species that many types of wildlife like to eat. Also, and again because of humans - we have fewer predators and no natural disasters like large scale forest fires - at least in this part of the country. Sure, if we HAD a time machine I'd be right in there with you, going back to before the market hunters, before the railroads were built, before we took the land out from under the feet of the native Americans(like my Cherokee ancestors.) But Tillie - we can't do that. We have to MANAGE the wildlife and wildlife habitat we have left to insure that it remains wild and that we maintain healthy wildlife populations. The simple fact is that, in nature, individuals of a species must die in order for the species as a whole to survive. That's life. That's reality. That's the natural world in a nutshell. One more question, Tillie: Do you eat meat?

Dan you used a lot of words to say you like to hunt. I am someone you could never understand. I don't like to kill. It is something I can not comprehend, that I would be the one to make the decision that this animal will not live any more. I see web sites of people who glorify in the killing of wild and endangered animals and pose with them. It sickens me. I don't expect you understand, that but that is who I am. I know all the junk about they are going to die horrible, etc, etc, but I don't want to make that decision. Going back in a time machine, humans needed to hunt, now they don't. Also whether I eat meat or not would not change my opinion abut killing animals. I am surprised at you asking that, it seems like a cheap trick but no, I don't. Meat is very unhealthy..

Tillie you used a lot of words to say you don't like to hunt. And that you're a vegetarian. And thank you for finally answering my question at the end of your paragraph. I have no problem with the fact that you're a vegetarian and - knowing that you are a vegetarian - I have no problem with the fact that you don't like killing animals. It is a morally consistent and intellectually defensible position to have - being that you are a vegetarian. Now, if you'd said you did eat meat - yet were against killing animals . . . I'd have a major problem with that. That would be a morally inconsistent and intellectually indefensible position. You might be interested to know that I also do not like the "sport" of African trophy hunting. Nor do I condone the Japanese practice of catching sharks only to cut their fins off and throw them back in the water to die a slow death. Or the Japanese practice of "whaling for scientific purposes." Nor do I condone the Spanish practices of bull fighting or the "running of the bulls." There's many traditions and activities that involve the killing of animals that I am agains. I respect that you don't want to decide what lives and dies. But know this - even as a vegetarian - you do not exist on this earth but because of something dying. Everything that lives is a party to something dying. That is simply the way that nature works.

Except for this subject, I usually find I agree with a lot you have to say. I don't agree with your point that eating meat means I should be able to kill an animal. I can not personally pull a trigger and end an animal's life. I also try to brake for animals. Not eating meat is a later in life decision for me. I visited a veal farm we were actually planning to buy. What I saw there changed my eating habits for ever. These animals were mistreated and fed disgusting chemicals. I don't eat meat because of the mistreatment of animals and because it is unhealthy for me.

And I respect your viewpoint Tillie, but I'd offer this, if the moderators continue to let our little discussion continue: When I hear you say "I don't agree with your point that eating meat means I should be able to kill an animal." I would counter with - "how else am I supposed to eat meat if I don't kill an animal." And "since animals have to be killed for me to eat meat - I want them to live free in their natural environment and not mistreated first and be killed quickly and humanely." and "I'm therefore willing to take the responsibility for seeing to it that the meat that I eat is treated and killed in a manner I'm ok with." I think we have more in common than we disagree on, Tillie, and I enjoy our little conversations(or at least that's how I'd like to think of them - not as arguments.)

ok,, Dan, I get dizzy when I go round in circles, so I will sit down now. But I will say it is good to have a discussion that does not disintegrate into disparaging the other's point of view, so far. So it is good to stop now.

Then stop going around in circles, that WILL make you dizzy. In fact, just stop period.

That comment was not directed to you. You are exactly what I meant when I mention disparaging someone's point of view.

I can not especially disagree with most of the comments. However, I missed the point of the article. In every household, the adults need to be responsible about ALL potential dangers. The 20/20 TV show on the subject was worse than nothing in that the actions of the TV crew was worse than any of the parents. Now, what is responsible in my household is not going to be the same as in other households. So, the biggest danger in such articles that it seems to think there is a set of rules that is suitable for all occasions. I fear the next step is to attempt to make these arbitrary rules into laws and have officers inspect peoples house. Or have teachers ask students about such things.

WOW! What a bunch of wasted space. All this editorial needed to say was, "So how do you keep a child safe? Be a responsible gun owner." And bravo to RJE49 for adding the part about teaching kids how to handle guns - when they're old enough - under the supervision of a responsible adult. Then . . . take 'em hunting. That first squirrel, pheasant, rabbit, duck, deer, turkey, etc. they shoot will provide high-quality food for their table and also teach them firsthand the awesome and very REAL power of guns - unlike all those violent 1st person shooter games they play.

Is it me, or do we seem to have a common sense deficit? Knowledge is the greatest gift you can give your child. Part of that knowledge should include our animal friends. Urbanites are under the stupid idea that hunters are bad, they kill Bambi. You never hear anybody talking about overpopulations of animals, and you never hear anybody talk about how many folks own guns and are responsible with those guns. It always goes back to responsible parents it seems. The common thing being pushed now is that parents are not parenting so laws and teachers have to step in. There is also no chat about the minorities that kill each other every day. Or the fact that we have a major mental health issue in this country that seems to be producing a lot of young angry men. All about the gun.

You're absolutely right "bunny" - as a teacher I see it all the time. Kids who are coddled, protected from "bad stuff", not allowed to fail, make their own mistakes(and LEARN from them), etc.

Quite a frustrating read. I own many firearms. I have an 11 and a 9 year old. My guns are loaded in my home. My children do not touch them. Why? Because I have taken the time to teach them what they are. When my 9 year old was about 4 years old. He asked to look at one. Since that time, if he is curious about the fire arm, or wants to look at it. He comes to me and asks. I don't keep them a mystery. I teach both of my children what they are, what they do, and the damage they can cause. I do not believe in an empty firearm, unless going to the range, which they are made safe for inspection by the range. Why don't I believe in an empty/unloaded gun? Wouldn't it be stupid if that fire extinguisher was empty while sitting on the wall, requiring to be filled at the time of a fire?

It is nice to see healthcare professionals sharing information gleaned from the television show 20/20, those walk-in clinics are having more appeal by the day. If her child's safety was truly a concern when he visited friends' homes, she would have been asking if they had; a trampoline, aggressive dogs, unlocked alcohol, illegal or prescription drugs, a swimming pool... And as we learned this week from the tragedy in Plaistow, a working carbon monoxide detector.

The only thing I'd add to educating kids about guns is to actually let them handle a real gun - under supervision, of course. A real gun is made of metal, mostly steel, and is obviously solid and much heavier than a toy gun. In the example given, there is no mention if the kids had ever held a real gun, so telling the difference was just a guess. Yes, do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of unsupervised kids, but there will be that time when the unexpected happens, and I'd hope the kid at least knows it's not a toy.

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