‘Oughta Be Locked Up!

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.

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9 Responses to “‘Oughta Be Locked Up!”

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