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.)