According to research completed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a gun kept in the home is forty-three times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill a stranger in self-defense. In homes with guns, the risk of suicide increases five times and the risk of homicide increases three times over the rate of homes with no guns.
Because of the increased risks guns pose, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that homes with children do not contain guns. Many children live in homes with a gun. Even if you do not own one, it is likely your child may visit with friends whose parents own guns or may be exposed to guns through their peers or other relatives.
Just as important as teaching your child to safely cross the street, gun safety should be part of every family’s safety conversation. This conversation could prevent a tragedy or may even save your child’s life.
Prepare children of all ages by reviewing the following rules of gun safety:
Guns are not toys. Explain to your child that a REAL gun is not a toy and should NEVER be played with.
Guns are dangerous. Your child may have been exposed to pretend gun violence in movies, television, video games, and/or through play with other children. Talk with your children about what they see in the media and explain that it is not real. Advise them that a real gun can permanently injure or kill the person who is handling it or anyone who is nearby or in the area.
Never touch a gun. Tell your child that picking up a gun, or even touching it, even if they do not intend to touch the trigger or fire it, is not OK. Children should never touch a gun, even if they believe the gun is not loaded or is safe. Most gun accidents are committed without any intent to hurt someone. Even if a friend assures them it is OK, children should know they should NEVER touch a gun.
If you see a gun, leave the area immediately. Once your child understands that they are never to touch a gun, they need to know what to do if they are exposed to one. If a child sees a gun, he should get away from it and find a safe place far from the gun immediately.
After you are safely away from the gun, immediately tell an adult. Once safely away from the gun, a child must immediately inform an adult about its location. If the child is at a friend’s home, he should tell the adult in charge. If there is no adult present, instruct your child to contact you or any other trusted adult immediately.
If the gun owner is someone you know, he should be notified immediately and asked to secure the firearm. You may also want to think about whether you will allow your child to visit this person’s home again.
If your child sees an unsecured gun and the owner of the gun is unknown, you should report the location of the gun directly to the police.
Additional information for parents
For tips on how to prepare your child to visit a new friend's home including asking about guns, please see our article, When Your Child Visits a New Home.
If you own a gun or are thinking of buying a gun, click here for more information on home gun safety.
How to respond to threats of gun violence:
Know the difference between play and a real threat. Young children will often create play guns using sticks and other items or even their hands. This pretend play is a normal mimicking of behaviors your child has witnessed on TV, and sometimes it’s just a fun game that children play. A threat of gun violence will cause fear and should be reported to the police immediately.
A note on toy guns: Whether you allow your child to play with a toy gun is a personal decision. However, it’s important to let your child know that real guns are not toys. Also, public areas such as a mall, movie theaters, and public transportation may have rules about carrying toy guns. It’s best to have your child keep these kinds of toys at home.
Report any threats. Tell your children that if they are threatened or if they overhear a threat of gun violence, they must immediately notify an adult. If they are at school, this may be a teacher or principal. If out of school, advise them to notify you or another trusted adult immediately.
Report any threats of gun violence to the police immediately.
Inform your child of the consequences. Your child may witness pretend gun violence and hear actors or video game avatars threaten to use guns against each other. It’s important to explain to your child there are consequences if they threaten someone in real life. These consequences may include school expulsion, criminal arrest, and other legal actions that can be taken against the person who makes the threat.
For more on how to talk with your child about tragic events, including gun violence, check out our article on Talking About Tragic Events.
KidsHealth Gun Safety: Article on gun safety written directly for kids.
Center to Prevent Youth Violence: Organization focused on educating parents and kids to prevent gun violence, gang-related violence, and suicide.
Common Sense About Kids and Guns: Non-profit group committed to working together to protect America's children from gun deaths and injuries.
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: Non-profit started by lawyers and committed to providing legal expertise in support of gun violence prevention and gun laws.
Brady Campaign Scorecard of Current Gun Laws: Gun laws by state.