December 21, 2004
Kids most often associate handguns with power. But when parents make the decision to own a handgun, that decision assumes they’re prepared to undertake not only the full-time responsibility for their weapon’s safety and security, but also their children’s safety and security.
According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, the average child sees about 200,000 violent acts on TV, including 40,000 murders, by high school graduation. These numbers don’t include what children see on the big screen or the Internet.
"People want to own a handgun mostly for protection reasons," said Rick Caldwell, a police officer in Gastonia, N.C. "There seem to be new threats, not just in their own communities, but all over the world. People watch the news and see all the bad things going on."
While owning a handgun might make people feel safer in their homes, gun ownership must be taken seriously, Caldwell said.
One of Caldwell’s responsibilities includes educating fifth-graders in his area’s public and private schools about gun safety. In his 14 years of service, Caldwell said he has learned that kids are curious.
"We tell the kids about being an officer and about our uniforms, but we try to emphasize the dangers of guns," Caldwell said. "We stress that guns are not toys, and they should never try to grab an officer’s gun.
"Their curiosity goes both ways," he added. "Some kids are a little intimidated by it, but some are like, ‘Hey, can you show us the gun?’ We tell them, ‘No, we can’t take our guns out unless we’re in a situation where we have to use them.’ "
Unfortunately, it’s that same curiosity that can be deadly when guns end up in children’s hands.
Whether it’s a firearm or something as common as a carpenter’s nail gun, a BB gun or an air gun, all are dangerous and easily accessible to kids. Parents should assume their children are going to come across a gun at some point in their youth and should teach them about gun safety.
One of the most popular programs that offers an interactive approach to teaching kids about guns is Eddie Eagle, a program of the National Rifle Association. It offers this basic, fourstep approach when kids come in contact with a firearm: Stop, don’t touch, remove yourself from the area and tell an adult.
What’s hardest for children to recognize is that they must remove themselves from the area — just stopping and not touching a gun is not enough. Removing themselves from the area protects them from being harmed by a child who doesn’t know not to touch. A child as young as 3 has the finger strength to pull a trigger, and some studies show that by age 8, 90 percent of children are capable of firing a gun.
Ultimately, the parents must own responsibility in the event an accident involving their child occurs.
"Parents just need to talk to their kids; they know their kids better than anybody else, and they’re responsible for them," Caldwell said. "Adults do have to keep their guns locked up and have to make sure the kids don’t have access to them."
At some point, children must learn guns can kill. Young children aren’t aware of the negative impact caused by a gun — the loss of life and the lifetime of grieving for their loved ones. As they get older, the chances increase they’ll come in direct contact with a gun.
Teenagers also deal with social issues and cultural influences that initiate or fuel curiosity about guns. More parents work outside the home and aren’t always available for guidance and supervision when kids are home, and characters in movies, TV shows and video games frequently use guns to gain power or control and often suffer no consequences for their actions. These factors may increase the likelihood that some kids are interested in or intrigued by guns.
Kids also typically know where guns are in the home. Parents who have guns at home may think their children don’t know where they’ve hidden guns, but kids find them. Even locked cabinets can be pried open. According to some estimates, about 30 percent of families with children keep loaded guns in the home, and many families have weapons they don’t know are loaded in the home.
"I definitely wouldn’t advocate keeping a gun under a pillow, but rather in a safe with a gun lock on the gun," Caldwell said. "The excuse, ‘Well, I had it in the top of my closet in a shoebox,’ doesn’t matter if the kid gets a hold of their parent’s gun."
Kids know actors on TV get up and walk away after being shot. But communication is vital in teaching them the differences between guns and violence in the media and the ways guns affect real people in real life.
"It’s important to put safeguards in place when you own a gun," Caldwell said. "Just from the presentations in schools, I know kids are curious. That’s exactly how they’re going to be at home, too."