Guns Around Kids: 6 Tips for Responsible Firearm Ownership as a Parent

A young person wearing eye protection while trap shooting outside

Approximately 7% of children in the U.S. (4.6 million) live in a household where firearms are stored unsafely (loaded and unlocked). That being said, is the responsibility of gun enthusiasts to ensure that they are handling and storing guns safely, just as it is a parent’s responsibility to keep their children safe. Children are naturally curious and it should always be assumed that they may play with anything they can get to.

Safe use and storage of firearms is largely a matter of routine and erring on the side of caution, and therefore practicing gun safety around kids is a relatively easy habit to get into. Just by following the handful of precautions below, you can drastically increase your family’s safety.

1. Practice Proper Gun Storage Around Children

Perhaps the most important and effective way to ensure that children can’t harm themselves or others with a gun is by making your guns impossible for children to reach and discharge in the first place. And yes, it is important to both keep them out of reach and unloaded, as it is always possible that one precaution or the other can be accidentally overlooked. Redundant precautions are an important part of safety, especially when the precautions are so simple and the risks so high. As mentioned, children are naturally curious and are often smarter and more resourceful than adults expect.

Ideally, the following basic precautions should be taken when storing a firearm:

  • Ensuring that it is unloaded and uncocked;
  • Placing it in a secure location with a good lock, such as a gun safe or a cabinet that is difficult to reach;
  • Keeping the code or key to the lock in a separate location, ideally on your person;
  • Storing your ammunition or materials for ammunition assembly, like brass and primers, separately;
  • Storing your ammunition in a cool, dry area.

2. Stay Knowledgeable and Receive Firearm Training

It is always a good idea to ensure that you are knowledgeable about your firearms and how to use them. By understanding the ins and outs of your firearm and how it should be handled, you can more effectively anticipate and prevent any potential dangers that may arise. In addition to initial, introductory courses and information, it is also helpful to regularly refresh and update your knowledge, especially if you get a new firearm or begin using your firearms for a new purpose.

It can also be a good idea to seek out age-appropriate firearm training for your children as well. This is another example of redundant precautions. While it is important to keep firearms out of your child’s reach in the first place, you can further guarantee their safety by ensuring that they fully understand what a gun is, what it is capable of, and how it is used. By doing so, you can reduce the chance that they will handle a gun unsafely if it does end up within their reach.

3. Stash Away the Gun — But Keep Communication Open

In keeping with the last point of advice, it is a good idea to communicate with children about gun safety. People are often inclined to want things that they don’t have or that they aren’t supposed to have, with the latter sometimes being called the “Forbidden Fruit Effect.” This desire can be even stronger and more difficult to control for children and adolescents, as their self-control is still in the process of developing.

Therefore, while it is important that guns are kept out of the reach of unattended children and to ensure that they understand the associated risks, it is also important to prevent guns from becoming a “forbidden fruit.” Explain what your firearm is and what it’s used for, and answer any questions that your child has. It can also be helpful to allow them to handle firearms in an age-appropriate way with proper supervision.

4. Keep Your Guns in Working Order

In addition to proper handling and storage, it is also important to ensure that your gun operates reliably. One of the best ways to do this is to regularly clean your gun. If a gun isn’t cleaned regularly, residue can build up, and this can result in both poor performance and a greater risk of malfunction. To do this properly, you should obtain a good gun cleaning kit and ensure that you have a strong understanding of how to disassemble and reassemble your gun. This process is also a good time to assess any potential damage to your firearm. Components that commonly need repair or replacement include: triggers, magazines, and magazine springs.

5. Lead by Example

Much of children’s behavior is developed at an early age by emulating the behavior of their parents or caregivers. As such, while “lead by example” may seem like tired advice on the surface, it has a biological basis in this case. Routine safety precautions and gun etiquette are not only important on their own merit; regular performance of these practices can also passively impress gun safety measures on your children. This process may be even more effective if you explain what you are doing and why as you observe these safety practices.

6. Know the Warning Signs and Risk Factors

It is important to identify personality traits or scenarios which may increase your child’s likelihood of accessing or using a gun. This could involve anything from individual curiosity and overconfidence to frequent visits to other households with guns. By observing these behaviors and anticipating how they could impact your child’s relationship to firearm access and use, you can better prevent dangerous situations.

Not all situations can be controlled, and accidents can happen to anyone. However, by taking these basic precautions and following regular routines related to your gun use, you can drastically reduce the chances of an accident.