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GUNS I

When I first heard the news of a six-year-old shooting and killing a classmate, I wondered how on earth does a 6-year-old know how to FIRE a gun? But I realized that there is nothing in his home that my 4-year-old grandson cannot turn on or turn off or figure out how to use. Though he has never seen or held a real or toy gun, I bet he could figure it out.

Guns and violence — an American dyad. The US has more firearms per capita in civilian hands than any other country in the world. Those opposing gun control say, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But people with guns kill and maim other people MORE OFTEN, MORE QUICKLY, and MORE EFFICIENTLY than people using any other means.

To me and just about every pediatrician I know, the answer to preventing children using or being shot by guns is to KEEP CHILDREN AND GUNS APART.

93% of pediatricians surveyed support restriction of handgun possession. Smart move: handguns account for 89% of firearm homicides and 71% of firearm suicides. While handguns comprise about 1/3 of all firearms, they account for 2/3 of all firearm deaths. In 1992, there were 13,220 handgun homicides in the US compared to 13 in Australia, 33 in the UK, 60 in Japan, and 128 in Canada.

HANDGUNS DO NOT BELONG IN HOMES! Homes are where children live and grow up. Guns are not healthy for children or other living things.

Why do I advocate handgun-free homes? Scientific data about parents and children have absolutely convinced me. The majority of gun-owning parents store their firearms loaded and/or unlocked, many trust children not to touch a loaded gun and believe their children can tell the difference between a toy and real gun. Only 30% of gun-owning families surveyed reported all guns were stored unloaded and locked up.

Even worse, people with firearms training like military service are more, not less, likely to keep guns loaded and unlocked at home. Although police recommend trigger locks or lockboxes for safe gun storage, only 6% of police surveyed used trigger locks at home while 13% relied on an out-of-reach location — far from foolproof.

More than 1/3 of accidental shootings of children occur in the homes of friends or relatives. Many children live in homes with guns (and 60% of gun owners have semi-automatic weapons). Many children lack adult supervision especially after school until the parents get home from work. No surprise: unintentional firearm injuries peak at home between 4 and 5 pm.

You say you want a gun for protection? Sorry, the statistics are against you. A gun at home is much more likely to kill a family member or friend than a criminal intruder. And the purchase of a handgun is associated with an increased risk of suicide.

And the kiddies? Two chilling experiments done at a child care center sure scared me. In the first study a policeman told a class of children (ages 4 to 7), “Don’t touch guns — they’re dangerous. If you see a gun leave the area. Tell an adult.” But when the adults left the room, the kids picked up the disarmed guns and “shot” everything in sight. On to another tactic. A different group of children had five days of teachings about how to make good choices, resist peer pressure, and distinguish toys from dangerous objects. Again when the grownups left, the majority of kids played with the guns even trying to use crayons as bullets!

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence provide good educational materials for pediatricians and parents. The rule if you own guns: EMPTY IT OUT, LOCK IT UP! Lock guns and ammunition in different locations, make sure children do not have access to keys.

Even if you don’t own a gun, your children are at risk outside the home because of the prevalence of guns. Talk with them about guns, tell them to keep away, and most important of all ASK THE PARENTS OF YOUR CHILDREN’S FRIENDS IF THEY KEEP A GUN AT HOME. If so, urge them to unload and lock and think very carefully about whether your children should play in a home with guns. You would not let your child enter a home where a child had polio. With over 38,000 firearm deaths a year and nearly 65,000 injuries from firearms, we have a public health epidemic on our hands with a much higher mortality rate than polio.

My own research published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that, as the number of guns in a community increases, the number of gun accidents involving children also rises. One 4-year-old child who blew off his 2-year-old brother’s head with a loaded handgun he found under the couch told me in the Emergency Room, “I would never do that to him again.”

VIOLENCE DOES NOT BELONG IN HOMES. Do not treat your children violently or let them observe violent behavior against adults. Limit TV and forbid violent programs.

Do not buy toy guns or other war toys. Don’t allow other children to bring guns into your house. Tell children who come to visit that they have to check guns at the door like the cowboys used to do in the Wild West. Point out that you have a VIOLENCE-FREE HOME.

Teach your children about the dangers of violence and anger as well as guns. Use every opportunity you have to interpret the world for your children in terms of your own anti-violent feelings. When your child sees or mentions violence, use the opportunity to say, “How would you feel if that happened to you?” or “Can you think of a better way to solve that argument?”

And remind your children every day that you love them, you value them, and you don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

We must combat BOTH GUNS AND VIOLENCE to protect our children — it’s not either/or.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS THEY CAN GET A PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, AND PRIVATE ANSWER TO THEIR PARENTING QUESTIONS BY GOING TO info@ParentKidsRight.com