When we ordered a new electronic health record, we picked one build for kids in an effort to improve the quality of the care we provide. One of the things it prompts us to ask about is guns in the home.
I’ve always been in the habit of asking about a child’s home setting to help parents create the safest places for their children to grow and thrive, but I wasn’t in the habit of asking about guns. I’ve been blown away (no pun intended) by the number of families who keep guns in their homes!
Turns out … my families are right at the national average. About a third of kids grow up in a home where there’s a gun. A few years ago, Diane Sawyer and her 20/20 team did a documentary about children and guns. With a large sampling of children, there were those raised around guns and actively exposed to gun safety. There were also kids who had never seen a gun but were taught never to touch them and kids whose parents hadn’t discussed guns at all. Behind the mirrored glass, kids were left in a room to wait for a grownup and on the corner table was a handgun. Just about every one of the kids picked up the gun.
The take home message from that study was that when a child comes across a gun, the overwhelming majority of them will pick up the gun, regardless of how familiar they are with guns, gun safety and irrespective of whatever they were taught growing up.
I’m a mom. I have taught my kids NEVER to touch a gun and to get a grownup helper if they ever see one. The reality is, however, that I have to assume my kids will pick up a gun if they come across one. So I ask you and my families now: “Is there a gun in your home?” When the kids visit friends for the first time, will you be like me and ask that same question? At first it felt awkward, but I imagined myself at a child’s funeral, and it got easier and easier the more often I did it.
And if the answer to the guns-in-your-home question is ‘yes,’ then I need to ask some more questions. Guns should be kept UNLOADED and in a LOCKED location with ammunition locked up in a different location. This is what I’m asking families in my office, too and it’s provided more than one opportunity to educate parents. “Your son is four months old today, but some day he’ll be four and then fourteen. If he finds your gun, he will pick it up. With this assumption as a starting place, let’s decide what to do next.
No matter how I wish it were otherwise, these statistics don’t lie. The safest home for our kids is one without guns.
by Gayle Schrier Smith, MD