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Kids and Guns
Q: I am the mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old boy. Many of his playmates have toy guns and other ''violent'' toys. We do not have any and I try to discourage him from playing with them at a friend's house. However, lately, he has been constructing ''guns'' out of Legos and playing ''shooting game,'' explaining that he is only shooting monsters. My question is: Do I still try to discourage him or do I go out and buy a gun and try to teach him about gun safety? My husband believes he should have one and we should teach him the pros and cons. My husband is not a gun owner but did have a BB gun when he was a kid and ''nothing ever happened to him.'' I'm really torn on this issue.
A: Your husband grew up in a much different world, but I respect his opinion, and suggest that if teaching gun safety is his concern, that can be done at a firing range using guns provided by the range. In other words, having a gun in the home is not a requirement of teaching gun safety.
Here are the tough questions you are facing:
- Do we want to have a gun in the house?
- If so, where do we want to keep it?
- How do we want to store it?
- How do we want to secure it?
- Do we want it to be a secret from the kids?
- Do we want to teach our kids how to use a gun?
- Do we want to give our son a gun of his own?
The question of whether to keep the location of a gun secret from a child is easy: You may elect to treat it as a secret, but never, ever rely upon the belief that a child cannot find a gun in the house. Even a denier will have trouble finding some meaning hidden between the words never and ever.
The toughest issue is whether or not to have a gun in the house at all. Since my perspective is solely the safety of your children, it's easy to conclude that for most families, having a gun in the house increases risk. That isn't just the conclusion of this one expert, but also of the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Crime Prevention Council, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Center for Health Statistics, and most relevant to our topic, the American Academy of Pediatrics.
No exploration of your child's safety can be complete without taking a clear-eyed look down the barrel of these statistics:
- Everyday, about seventy-five American children are shot. Most recover; fifteen do not.
- The majority of fatal accidents involving a firearm occur in the home.
- Gunshot wounds are the single most common cause of death for women in the home, accounting for nearly half of all homicides and 42 percent of suicides.
- An adolescent is twice as likely to commit suicide if a gun is kept in the home.
- A gun is not likely to be a key element in protection from an intruder, and is far more likely to harm a family member.
I hope this information makes your decision easier.
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Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is currently co-chair of the Domestic Violence Council Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy.