When deciding whether to keep a gun for protection, consider the odds: A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to result in the death of a family member, friend, or acquaintance than of a criminal.
The most important rule in a house with children is that guns should be stored unloaded and locked up and that ammunition be locked in a separate location. Then make sure your kids don't have access to the keys or the lock combinations.
People who have firearms for protection are naturally inclined to want their guns to be kept loaded and handy in case of an intruder. Unfortunately, most unintentional shootings of children happen because they are playing with a loaded gun. Kids are curious, and they like to imitate adult behavior. They're also very clever—they can find guns that parents think are well hidden and out of reach. One study found that 75 to 80 percent of first and second graders in homes with a gun knew where it was kept.
Load your gun only if and when you intend to fire it.
Don't underestimate your child's trigger finger. Kids as young as 3 have enough strength to fire many of the handguns on today's market, especially the small, lighter-weight models marketed to women. Pediatricians at Children's Memorial Hospital at Northwestern University tested the hand strength of children ages 3 to 10. The doctors found that a fourth of 3- and 4-year-olds and 70 percent of 5- and 6-year-olds were strong enough to fire nearly all the handguns commonly sold.
Some parents who keep a gun for protection figure they'll keep it loaded and by their bed only at night when the kids are asleep. But can they be sure that they'll remember every morning to lock that gun away?
Unintentional shootings among children occur most often when they are unsupervised and out of school, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. Peak times are late afternoons, weekends, during summer months, and during the November and December holidays.
If you have recreational guns—used for hunting or target shooting practice, for example—consider storing them at a gun club. Or dismantle them and lock them up at home in a separate place from where you lock the ammunition. It's also smart to wait to load them after you leave home, either at the target range or the place where you hunt.
A gun safe is one good choice for locked storage. Display cases with glass windows are not, because the glass can be broken, and because guns that are out of sight are less likely to attract children. The locked boxes in which some handguns are shipped aren't safe either, because determined children can dismantle them.
Not all trigger locks fit all kinds of guns, even though some are marketed that way. Check to make sure the lock shaft does not move. If there is extra space allowing it to move, it's possible the trigger could be activated.
Even if you don't own a gun, you need to check other places your child spends time. Ask the parents of his friends if they have guns and, if so, how they store them. Don't forget to check with relatives and your family day care provider, if you use one. You may feel awkward about having this conversation, but it could save your child's life.
A safety device that could help reduce firearms injuries to children is the gun lock. Some local communities require that gun locks be provided with every new handgun purchased.
The most common type of lock encloses the trigger guard on a gun so that the trigger cannot be pulled. Some come with a key, others with a combination lock. Some locks have an alarm system that activates if someone tampers with the lock.
One problem with gun locks is that there are no performance standards for them. Prices and quality vary. Heavy-duty locks can cost $30 to $90, but you can also purchase a plastic one for $1 that could easily break off the gun. Never rely on these cheap, plastic versions, and don't buy a lock that doesn't require either a key or a combination to disengage it.