I wrote this for someone who "might be a gun owner someday". I'd like your comments. How can I reach them? Thanks in advance.
Should I lock up my firearm if I have a child in the house? I think the answer is clear. Letís look at the risks and at our options. I also want you to see how the common answer has been deliberately distorted.
First you have to wade though a lot of really dirty data. The data is so mislabeled that it appears deliberately skewed. I have a habit of looking at data. I seldom argue with the value, but I often have a huge disagreement with how the data is presented. To take an analogy from the farmers market, a sack of fruit can be re-weighed, so it is easier to deceive the customer by lying about quality than quantity. Measuring the risk to children by having a gun in the home has the same problems of mislabeling. In fact, you can get any accident rate you want if you re-define the question.
Say you want to know if your 8 year old child is safe once you have a gun in your house. If it doesnít make a difference in child injuries, then you might want to keep the gun unlocked so you or your spouse could use the firearm for self-defense. You start to read, and what do you find.
13 children a day killed with a firearm
Really? That makes it sound like firearms shouldnít be let in any home or apartment. Dig deeper into the data. The claim is true if you include all people under 25 years old living with their parents or living alone and under 21. We just threw the 23 year old drug dealers in with your 8 year old child, so that data doesnít answer our question. Letís try again.
How about an 18 year old Marine shot overseas? Does he belong in the data set? No, not if you want to accurately predict the benefits from locking your gun away from your small children.
Your neighbor is a young college student. She doesnít believe in guns and wonít own any. Unfortunately she was in her garage when she was shot by a gang member on the corner. It is true that she wouldnít have been shot ďif there wasnít a gun on the property.Ē The twisted statistics donít distinguish between the criminalís gun brought onto the property and the victimís gun used for self-defense. A gun lock would not have helped your neighbor, but she counts as a ďjuvenile victimĒ anyway.
You read about a young child shot in his home by a drive by shooting. Would a gun lock have helped that child? Obviously not. You get my point by now. The data is dirty and incomplete.
We want to know about accidental shootings where the child pulled the trigger because the gun wasnít secure. Weíre more cautious than that. We donít want a negligent discharge by an unsecured gun even if no one is hit. I have not found that data exactly, but we can come close.
Here is the accidental death data from the National Safety Council for the year 2000. (1)
(see graphic at the link)
We canít tell if these 80 children were shot by others or if they found an unsecured gun and hurt another child or themselves. I think the real number is in the low teens, but canít verify the source. We do know that more children die by accidental drowning in their bathtub than from firearms. More people are killed by lightning, though not all of them are children. That offers some perspective on the risk, but it still ignores two essential points.
Weíve looked at risk and ignored the benefit. I canít justify having a gun in my home if they were only a danger to children and nothing else. We ignored the increased risk we face from NOT being armed. For the sake of argument letís say that ALL 80 of the accidental deaths each year are caused by children getting their hands on unsecured guns. That puts the risk at about 1 in 4 million. The lowest rate of violent crime is about 1 in 2000 people, but not all of these crimes occur in the home.
Roughly speaking your family is about a thousand times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than to have a child injured with your own firearm. Not every person who owns a gun will have it at hand when they need it. It is a reasonable estimate that having a gun for self-defense is about a 500 time more likely to reduce the effect of a violent criminal attack than to kill a child in the home. That is impressive. That is why many of us have firearms. We actually put our family, our children, at a greater risk if we choose to be disarmed.
That ratio doesnít matter because the choice isnít about statistics. I would rather suffer a million attacks than live with the fact that my child was hurt by my negligence. So would you. It is my duty to keep my family safe. That means I have to lock up poisons and remove obvious risks so my children arenít hurt by the things I do or fail to do. That means I wonít keep a loaded firearm in my home where a child can get to it. Period. Does that mean you should sell your firearms and live with the increased risk to your family?
No, I didnít say that. It means you MUST control access to your firearm according to the age of your children. Please keep them secured at all times once you have toddlers in your home. Being on your body or in a rapid access gun safe is secure. I know it seems that time of your life will last forever, but have patience. This too shall pass.
Youíll teach your children about guns as they grow, but you remain responsible for the safety of all the children and strangers in your home. Children grow through the Eddie Eagle program, the four rules of gun safety, through 4H and other youth shooting programs. Plan for it. Be part of it.
The risk from firearms is similar to other risks they face like cars and alcohol. We protect our children but we canít shield them so much that they are unprepared to enter the world.
I donít have an answer about when children should get their first gun. Things change with time. At some point they are shooting on their own and then you show them how to access your firearms for their own defense.
With graphics at the link.