While working in the Emergency Department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of unintentional and non-accidental firearm injuries. Seeing patients who have sustained a firearm-related injury is difficult. Patients often arrive in critical condition and require extensive medical care, including emergency surgery and ICU care. The situation is even more difficult when the patient is a child. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence.
Firearms are one of the top three causes of pediatric deaths, and the leading cause of death for youth 14-18 years old, responsible for 25% more fatalities than motor vehicles crashes.
Preventing pediatric firearm-related injuries and fatalities has become the mission of my colleagues and myself. Our research focuses on various firearm topics such as firearm storage practices in homes and youth exposure to firearm-related violence. An important part of accomplishing our mission is providing parents with the information needed to have conversations about firearm safety with their children and implement safe firearm and ammunition storage practices in their homes.
Some of you may be avid hunters who are very familiar with firearms. Others may have never held or shot a firearm. Regardless of your prior experience with or knowledge of firearms, this article will enhance your understanding of firearm safety and give you the resources to help prevent firearm-related injuries from occurring.
Are firearms commonly present in homes with children? How are firearms stored in these homes?
In order to answer these questions, my colleagues and I administered a survey to over 1,300 Iowan adolescents aged 13-18 years old. The results of this survey showed that 1,159 (84%) respondents had a rifle or shotgun in the home and 802 (58%) had a handgun in their home. For adolescents aware of handgun storage in their home, over one-fourth stated that the handguns in their home were stored both loaded and unlocked at least some of the time. Among those aware of rifle or shotgun storage practices in their homes, one-fifth reported the rifles/shotguns were stored both loaded and unlocked at least some of the time.
Previous studies have shown that the majority of unintentional firearm fatalities in children occur in the home, and most occurred when the child was playing with a loaded firearm. Furthermore, having access to a firearm increases the likelihood of suicide among youth. So how do we protect children and prevent unwanted access to firearms? The safest option would be to remove the firearm from the home. If removing the firearm is not possible, here are some guidelines on how to safely store firearms:
- Hiding guns is not enough as children may access and handle them
- Firearms should be stored unloaded and locked separately from ammunition
- Adolescents should not know how to access where the firearms are stored. It is best if gun safe keys, combinations, and passcodes are only known by adults
Some of you may be thinking… there are no firearms in my home, so is discussing firearm safety with my children necessary?
The short answer is yes. In our survey, 85% of respondents reported visiting homes with firearms. These homes included those of family members (86%), friends (82%), and neighbors (47%). Even though your child may not access a firearm in your home, there is a possibility they may come across a firearm in someone else’s.
“Do you have a firearm in your home?”
Asking this question to parents of homes your child visits may feel awkward and uncomfortable, but the harm it could prevent is worth the discomfort. If asking this question directly feels inappropriate, there are less direct options as well such as, “My child is pretty curious. Is there a gun or anything else dangerous he might get into?” If your child does play in a home where there is a firearm, ensure that: the gun is stored unloaded and locked, ammunition is stored locked and stored separately from firearms, and the storage is only accessible to adults. If you have any doubt about your child’s safety in a gun-owing home, inviting the children to play in your home instead is always a great idea.
Talking about firearms should be part of normal safety conversations you have with your children. Some key points of your discussion should include telling your children not to touch a gun, even if it looks like a toy, and not to listen to a friend who says a gun is unloaded or otherwise safe. This conversation should be repeated on a regular basis. If your child is going to be handling firearms for hunting or sport shooting, having them take a firearm safety course or hunter safety course can help decrease their risk of sustaining an unintentional firearm injury.
Thank you so much to the staff at the Safety Store at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for offering this important reminder and some great tips to keeping our kids safe, both in our own homes and wherever they may go. If you have additional questions or concerns about gun safety, please contact them via phone at 319-356-3543.
For more content on gun safety and tips on how to ask the hard questions, check out these posts from our ICM contributors:
This is a sponsored post. While the opinions expressed here are not those of Iowa City Moms, they are in line with our beliefs and we fully support the work of the Safety Store to help children and families in our community.