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Kids and Guns- Safe and Secure

March 4, 2012

Should I get rid of my firearm if I have a child in the house?  I think the answer is very clear.  Let’s look at the risks before we decide.  I also want to show you how the common answers has been deliberately distorted.

I had to wade though a lot of really dirty data to see how people really behave.  The data is so mislabeled that it appears to have been deliberately skewed.  It isn’t surprising that you can get any accident rate you want once you re-define the question.

We want to know if our 8 year old child is at risk once we bring a gun in our home.   If it doesn’t make a difference in child injuries, then we might want to keep the gun unlocked so we could use the firearm for self-defense.  We start to read, and what do we find…

 13 children a day killed with a firearm

Really?  That makes it sound like firearms shouldn’t 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 doesn’t answer our question at all.

Let’s try again.  How about an 18 year old Marine shot overseas?  Does he belong in the data set with your child living at home?  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 doesn’t believe in guns and won’t own any.  Unfortunately she was in her garage when she was wounded by a gang member on the corner.  It is true that she wouldn’t have been shot “if there wasn’t a gun on the property.”  The twisted statistics don’t distinguish between the criminal’s gun brought onto the property and the victim’s gun used for self-defense.  A gun lock would not have helped your neighbor, but now she counts as a “juvenile victim of domestic gun violence.”

You read about a young child who was shot in his home by a drive by shooting.  Obiously a gun lock or gun safe would not have helped that child.  By now you get my point that the statistical data is dirty, mislabeled, and incomplete.

What we are really interested in is an accidental shooting where the child pulled the trigger because the gun wasn’t secure.  We are more cautious than that.  We don’t want a negligent discharge by an unsecured gun even if no one is hurt.  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 sorted by age. (1)

We can’t tell if these 80 children were shot by other people or if they found an unsecured gun and hurt another child or themselves.  We do know that fewer than 80 children were hurt by an unsecured firearm.

In fact, in this set of data it appears that about 12 children were injured because a child got hold of an unsecured gun in the home in 2010.  That rate is one child in 25 million people.

Here it says 36 children were shot, but mostly by criminals, not shot on accident.  We do know that children are about 20 times more likely to die by accidental drowning than from firearms.  Now we have some perspective on the risk of a gun in our home.

That is only half the story, and we’ve ignored something important.  We looked at the risks and ignored the benefits.  I could never justify having a gun in my home if it is only a danger to my family and never a benefit.  We’ve ignored the risk we face by NOT being armed.

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 ten thousand times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than to have a child injured with your own firearm.  That sounds like we should all get a gun to be safer.  Unfortunately, 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  at least 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, including our children, at greater risk if we choose to be disarmed.

That is important, but the ratio doesn’t matter because the choice isn’t 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 aren’t hurt by the things I do or fail to do.  That means I won’t 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?

It means you should get a gun, but you MUST control access to your firearm according to the age of your children.  Please keep your guns secured at all times once you have toddlers in your home.  Being on your body or in a rapid access gun safe is secure.  Putting the gun under the bed, in a drawer or on a shelf is NOT secure!

I know it seems that having young children will last forever, but please have patience.  I’ve been there.  This too shall pass.  You’ll 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 can first learn gun safety through the Eddie Eagle program.  Later they can learn the four rules of gun safety through 4H and other youth shooting programs.  Please plan for it.  Make it happen.  Better yet, be part of that education.

The risk from firearms is similar to other risks our children face like household poisons, electrical outlets, cars and alcohol.  First we first protect our children and later we teach our children to avoid those risks.  We should not shield them so much that they are unprepared to enter the world.

I don’t have an answer about when children should get their first gun.  Things change with time.  At some point our children are shooting on their own and then you show them how to access your firearms for their own defense.

Related posts- Kids and Guns- Monsters and Good Clean Fun



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2 Comments leave one →
  1. James permalink
    March 4, 2012 4:09 pm

    I really enjoy reading your posts like this one. I always learn something that I can apply eventually. I also like your analysis of statistics. I’m constantly trying to tell me students about thinking about the numbers rather than just accepting them. Investigate and analyze!



  1. How to Lie About Gun Violence | SlowFacts

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