The shooting death of a six-year old girl by a boy in her class again brought the dangers of guns to children into the spotlight. A tragedy such as this is unforeseeable by the victim's parents. How do you protect your children against this? It's rumored that some kids knew about the gun, but not the boy's intent. If so, what can we say to the children who knew the boy had the gun?
Lori recently encountered a request that once again gave us the opportunity to educate our children and remind ourselves of the importance of talking about gun dangers.
"Can Allie come over to play tomorrow after school?" This was the question posed to me outside of my daughter's kindergarten classroom this morning. "Sure," I replied to the mother of my daughter's friend, whom I've smiled at routinely and chatted with occasionally for the past four months. We agreed to exchange telephone numbers and addresses and she would take Allie home with her from school the following day.
As I was putting my children in the car it hit me. What? I don't really know this family or where they live. Of course, I'm not going to let her take Allie from school. Surely she is a very nice lady and respectable person. But she is not part of my social group of trusted friends.
The next day the mother gave me her address and telephone number. I told her I would pick Allie up from school and bring her over afterwards. She probably thinks I'm a nut, but when it comes to my child -- who cares! My taking Allie there personally gives me the chance to relieve my paranoia. I can visit for a few minutes, check out the surroundings and I know exactly where she is, instead of just an address.
It also gives me a chance to ask a question that for most is uncomfortable (me included)... "Do you have any guns in your home?" As parents we are able to see many things that allow us to feel comfortable or discuss them with the parents of our children's' friends. Items such as a pet or a pool. However, guns are a hidden danger, one that many people are reluctant to discuss. Consider some of these startling statistics from Physicians for Social Responsibility:
In 72% of unintentional deaths and injuries, suicide, and suicide attempts with a firearm of 0-19 year-olds, the firearm was stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend. (1)
Nearly all childhood unintentional shooting deaths occur in or around the home. (2)
In 1996, 1,134 people (many of them children) were killed accidentally or unintentionally by firearms. (3)
48% of gun-owning households with children do not regularly make sure that guns are equipped with child safety or other trigger locks. (4)
This is a subject that can't be taken lightly. If your child is invited to visit a friend after school be sure that you have personally gone to that home and asked that tough question: "Do you have a gun?" If the answer is yes, ask how it is stored. Then you can decide to allow your child to stay if you feel comfortable. Some guidelines to follow in discussing gun storage with other parents and when educating your child on guns include:
- Firearms must be kept unloaded, in a locked gun safe and the key put where children absolutely will not get access to them.
- Put ammunition in a separate, locked place.
- Always unload the bullets from a gun and store them in a place locked and away from the gun.
- Don't allow your children to play with toy guns -- children can not tell the difference.
- Don't think your child doesn't know where the gun is hidden in your home -- they most likely do.
- Teach your child to never touch or play with guns. If a friend or sibling wants to show them a gun, they are to leave and find an adult immediately.
- Talk to your child about firearms and their dangers, so they won't be such a mystery.
- Even if you don't own a gun someone you know might. When setting play dates at other people's houses, ask if they have a gun (or if their relatives do).
Maybe if we can instill in our children the importance of telling adults about guns that other children show them or talk about, we can help prevent another Michigan tragedy or accidental shooting.
(1) Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, as published int eh Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, August 1999.
(2) National Safe Kids Campaign, 1998.
(3) National Vital Statistics Reports, 1998.
(4) Peter Hart Research Associates Poll, July 1999.
This article is reprinted from the Paranoid Sisters website.