Many people may not realize it, but firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death of US children, more than car accidents, drowning, poisoning, even pediatric cancer.
As scary as that sounds, there is a lot we can do about it. One of the most effective tools we have to keep our kids safe is also the simplest: safe storage, also known as secure storage. What does that mean, exactly? It means storing your firearms in a way that prevents kids from gaining access to them. The main thing to know about safe storage is that it works because it addresses all 3 categories of child firearm injury and death: unintentional or accidental shootings, suicide, and homicide.
At least 4.6 million US children live in homes with at least 1 loaded, unlocked firearm.
Every year in the US, 350 children under 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else with an unsecured firearm.
Each year in the US, more than 700 children under 18 die by suicide with a gun.
Households that lock both guns and ammunition have a 78% lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injury among kids and teens.
75% of school shooters 18 and under use weapons from the home of a parent or close relative.
We might think hiding our firearms is enough, but multiple studies have shown that most kids know where they are, even when parents think they don’t. That’s why the safest way is for the firearms to be unloaded and locked in a device like a safe, separate from the ammunition, which should also be locked up. However, depending on your family’s reason for owning guns, that may not always make sense, so it’s important to know about other options. For some people, a biometric safe that only opens for a specific person’s fingerprints might be a way of keeping a gun close at hand but away from kids. These devices come in a variety of sizes and prices and are a great option for many people.
For others, a safe or lock box may not make sense, but a cable lock may. These devices are small, inexpensive, and are still effective at preventing people like kids from hurting themselves or someone else. While many of us may logically think of keeping our guns away from toddlers and small children, it is important to know that older kids are still at risk. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death of US children, and guns are the most common fatal means used. In fact, while the most common means of attempt --ingestion of pills--is fatal only about 4% of the time, guns are fatal 90% of the time when used in a suicide attempt.
One really helpful resource for understanding and spreading awareness of the importance of secure storage is Be SMART:
- S: Secure all firearms in your homes and vehicles
- M: Model responsible behavior around firearms
- A: Ask about the presence of unsecured firearms in other homes where your kids stay and play
- R: Recognize the role of firearms in suicide
- T: Tell your peers to be S-M-A-R-T
As parents and caregivers, we all want to keep our kids safe. Secure storage is an easy and effective way for us to do just that. Together, we can all be SMART to keep kids safe.
This blog is brought to you in recognition of Suicide Awareness Prevention Month. If your child or someone you know may be struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline(800) 273-8255 or 988.
Resources for Safe Storage
About the Author
Dr. Nicole Webb joined Valley Children's in August 2012 as a pediatric hospitalist. Board certified in both general pediatrics and pediatric hospital medicine, Dr. Webb is passionate about patient and family-centered care, medical education, health equity, and advocacy. In her various leadership roles, she seeks to advance the voices of patients and families, particularly those often unheard, in all that we do. She has led organizational efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly pertaining to creating affirming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth. She is dedicated to resident and medical student education, and to helping the next generation of physicians become not only excellent clinicians, but also strong advocates for our kids, both within and even more importantly, outside the walls of the hospital.