Safety • Mar 22, 2012

Guns and Kids: Do they ever belong under the same roof?

A few times a year I see teens that are brought to the hospital by their parents after they were caught holding a gun to their head.  I used to counsel these families to remove the guns from their home.  Never once, however, did parents agree to do so.  They assure me that they will lock the guns, hide ammunition, or take other steps to limit their child’s access to the gun.   But get rid of the gun?  No…

It’s a fact: having a firearm in your home increases your teen’s risk of committing suicide.  But does that mean you should remove guns from your home as soon as you become a parent? 

During my pediatric training I felt strongly that guns and kids don’t belong in the same house together.   I would cite the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home.”  I was even trained discuss this opinion with families during well-child check-ups.  The statistics convinced me:

  • A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense.  
  • A gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide.  
  • The risk of suicide is 5 times more likely if a gun is kept in the home.1  

And then I started working with families from rural Missouri.  They thought I was ridiculous.  And I realized I was a bit ridiculous.  “What if an intruder is coming into your home?”   My answer: “Call 911.”  Their answer: “But law enforcement is at least 20 min away…and meth is a big problem around here.” 

In fact, having kids in the home actually increases many people’s desire to own a gun.  With parenthood comes a tremendous obligation to protect your children, and a gun can seem like an important part of that plan.  Even if a gun is never used, just having it in the home can serve as a deterrent to crime.  These above statistics don’t address crimes that were avoided because the criminal knew the potential victim was armed. 

My patients and colleagues eagerly tell their tales of the times they have shown off their “piece.”  One young mother, conservatively dressed in a mid-calf-length skirt, was alone at a carwash at twilight.   A man approached her with inappropriate requests.  Without saying a word, she put her hand on her gun, and he left.  So how do the statistics capture this?  They don’t. 

So should families with children have guns in the home?  I think this decision is dependent on your family’s personal situation, your access to law enforcement, and your willingness to take the time and effort to be a responsible gun owner.  As your kids get older, be aware that you may have to change your decision about gun ownership: 

  • Do not keep a gun in the home if any member of the household has a history of depression, anger, violence, or unstable mental health. 
  • If your teen shows signs of depression, consider finding a new home for your gun.  Even the best plans for gun security often fail. 

A few times a year I see teens that are brought to the hospital by their parents after they were caught holding a gun to their head.  I never see the teens who pulled the trigger.  Don’t be that kid’s parent.

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