Archive for the ‘gun safety’ Category

‘Oughta Be Locked Up!

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The kids are upstairs playing. The adults, downstairs in the kitchen. They hear the sounds of laughing, little feet running up and down the hall, shouts of “My turn!” Then, a horrifying BANG! Rushing to the children, they find their 4-year-old little girl, dying from a gunshot wound. Two men at the scene are arrested; charges include storing a weapon in a manner accessible by a minor.

This terrible scene took place just a few days ago in a house near mine. Home is supposed to be a safe place for children. A sanctuary. Certainly, they should be able to expect no sneak attacks, no dangerous surprises leaping out of dark closets to hurt them. And yet, some adults choose to keep guns in their homes while taking no precautions to keep their kids safe. My problem with this is 3-fold:

First, do you really need a gun? Especially with kids in the house. If you’re worried about crime, there are other steps you can take to bolster the safety and security of your family and home: place stronger locks on doors and windows, trim bushes down to eliminate hiding places for intruders, get an alarm system. This last option may be more expensive, but it can be a wise investment–and it won’t kill or maim a member of your family, result in jail time, and ruin more lives than it saves.

If, on the other hand, you simply want to have a gun because it’s one of your rights as an American citizen, I would ask you to weigh exercising that right against the possibilities of what can go wrong. You have the right to bear arms whether or not you choose to bring a gun into your home. You also have the right (depending on your neighborhood) to keep a tiger as a pet. I would not recommend it as a good idea–especially with children around.

Second, for those who feel strongly that they need a gun, I urge you to accept the responsibility for owning a deadly weapon, and lock it up securely–and separately from the ammunition. A recent study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 36% of parents who own guns store them loaded. 45% don’t use gun locks. I’ve been told by a gun-owning dad, “If I need that gun to protect my family, I need to be able to get to it quick.” Understood. But then, understand this: when you’re not looking, your kids will get to it quicker. What then?

The closet is a place to hang your clothes, not a secure storage facility for a gun. Neither is a drawer or under the bed. And, as the charges mentioned above indicate, keeping a gun in a place where a child can get to it is a crime. And 43% of parents with guns say they don’t use a gun locker or other secure storage location to protect their kids from their weapons. In fact, one mom told me, “I guess we’ve just been lucky so far that Jakey hasn’t found it.” This blew me away–she was leaving her child’s life up to “luck.”

… which brings me to my third point. If you insist on keeping a deadly weapon in a home with children, teach your kids how to respect it. This should include knowing how to recognize if a gun is loaded, and how to load, unload, clean, transport, and use the gun only in company of adult who also knows how to use it, and when to keep hands off (any time a weapons-trained adult is not present). Kids should be made aware of the irreparable damage guns can do, and that they must be treated with great care–not played with like they see actors do on tv. Accidents can happen, and they do, all too often. Just like they did for that little 4-year-old girl who lived near me.

What If There’s a Gun?

Monday, February 1st, 2010

When we were growing up, our parents taught us that talking to strangers was a surefire way to get kidnapped… that bullies were just “kids being kids” and you should toughen up… and that saying “No” to an adult was disrespectful and not to be done. Times have changed, and the ways we protect our children have changed, too. At radKIDS, we know that not all strangers are bad people, and sometimes kids may need to go to a stranger for help. So, we teach them how to find and approach good strangers; how to handle bullies rather than suffer years of pain; and that, sometimes, they may have to say “No” to an adult to protect themselves.

Another thing we need to teach our kids today that wasn’t much of an issue when we were growing up is what to do if there’s a gun. Maybe a classmate reveals one in their backpack at school. Or a friend pulls one out of Dad’s drawer during a playdate. Gun ownership in the United States is at an all-time high, with more than 250 million privately-owned firearms in over 40% of American homes. That means there’s at least one gun in almost half the houses in your neighborhood. So, if you don’t have one in your house, it’s a good bet that one of the neighbors on either side of you does.

I’ve watched studies of kids’ behavior, of what they do upon discovering what they thought was a real weapon. These were average-to-bright kids, elementary-school aged. They came from strong, loving families in which their parents tried to instill in them morals and good character. In separate interviews, each child was asked what they would do if they ever found a gun. The responses ranged from, “Tell a grownup” and “Don’t touch it” to “Run away” and “Call 911.” (All are excellent courses of action, I might add.)

Later, the children were grouped together in a playroom. A replica of a handgun had been hidden within the toys and games, so a child could “find” it. Behavior experts were curious as to how the kids would react. Would they run from the weapon? Would they remember their parents warnings not to touch it, and to notify an adult?

“Bang bang! I shot you!”

“Cool! Let me have it!”

“I wanna see it, too!”

“I had it first!”

The first thing these average-to-bright kids did was aim the gun at another child in the room or at their own faces, and pull the trigger. The good intentions of running away and telling an adult were lost in the excitement of handling the “dangerous weapon.”

I see the same behavior in my radKIDS classes when we cover gun safety. We use a bright yellow, rubber model of a handgun. When the activity is finished, often a child will come up to me and politely ask, “Can I just touch that gun for a minute?” I obligingly hand it over and watch as a spell befalls my once-safety-conscious students:

“Bang bang! I shot you!”

“Cool! Let me have it!”

“I wanna see it, too!”

“I had it first!”

Guns are fascinating to kids. The power, the mystique, the danger they represent often outweigh the few warnings we may have given them in the past. But these days, loaded guns are brought to schools, brandished on school buses, and wielded behind parents’ backs in neighbors’ homes. Repetition brings learning. We must keep telling our kids what to do if there’s a gun.

All in Fun? or Gun! Gun! Gun!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Hey! Wanna see somethin’ cool? Shhh…

What if a schoolmate beckoned your child to a corner of the classroom, smiled conspiratorially, and offered a peek at a prized item inside a Spiderman backpack? What if the prized item was a 9 mm. semi-automatic pistol? Very possibly loaded. And, at that moment, in the hands of a 10-year-old?

Would your child, in a combination of awe, envy, and admiration, gush in hushed tones, “Wow! Where’d you get that!” Would they ask to hold it? Just one time? For a second?

Or would they recognize the danger staring them in the face and run away, yelling to inform all others nearby, “Gun! Gun! Gun!”

I’ve read too many news stories about kids bringing guns to school. The fact that there are parents who care so little about their own children (not to mention other people’s) as to allow them to get their young hands on a deadly weapon–much less bring it to school to show off–disturbs me greatly.

But what I find even more alarming is the stance so many schools take on the issue of guns: a head-in-the-sand, don’t-talk-about-it policy. In these days of “zero tolerance,” schools like to think they’re being proactive by passing such rules as, “No talking about guns in class; no writing stories in which a gun is used; no play-‘shooting’ your friend who’s pretending to be an evil space alien at recess.”

An acquaintance of mine is a first-grade teacher. Rolling her eyes at the futility of her school’s policy, she told me, “We’re not even allowed to put the word ‘gun’ on our spelling lists! We have to make believe it doesn’t exist. How does that help the kids if there’s trouble?”

Good question. What these schools refuse to acknowledge is that none of the above-mentioned rules actually prevents someone from carrying a gun into a school. So, my answer to this extremely serious issue is to prepare kids for the situation, should it occur. Teach them how to use the tools they have to make smart choices, so they can keep themselves safe.

In this case, those tools are their legs, to run away, and their voices to yell, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” to alert trusted adults who can help. Then, give them the permission to do it, and the practice–to know they can.