Firearms in the Home
You can download this article as a PDF (English, Spanish).
One out of every three homes with children in the U.S. has a firearm. Many of these firearms are kept unlocked or loaded.
Children and teens are at the greatest risk of unintentional deaths, injuries and suicides from firearms. Young children are naturally curious. They explore in drawers, cabinets and closets. Some older children and teens are attracted to firearms and see them as signs of power.
Each year in Washington state, about 55 children are hospitalized and 38 die from firearm injuries. Most of these shootings occur in or around the home.
Should I talk to my child about firearms?
Yes! It’s better to talk about it before your child or teen comes across a firearm at home or somewhere else.
- Talk with your child about the risk of firearm injury in places they may visit or play.
- Explain that real firearms can kill or seriously injure people, unlike toy firearms or firearms shown on TV, in movies or in video games.
- Teach your child that if they find a firearm they should leave it alone, leave the room and tell an adult right away. While this training seems to work for some children, it doesn’t work for others. The only guarantee of safety is to lock up firearms.
- Teach your child to tell an adult right away if they see a firearm in someone’s backpack at school or if they hear someone is going to bring a firearm to school.
- Talk with your child about firearms and violence. Let them know that strong feelings like fear and anger can be expressed without using weapons.
How do I store a firearm safely?
Store firearms in a safe or lockbox with the ammunition stored separately to protect everyone in the home. This is called “triple safe” storage. Safe firearm storage also prevents theft of firearms. Use this checklist:
- Store firearms unloaded and locked.
- Store and lock ammunition in a separate place.
- Use a firearm safe, lock box, trigger or cable lock to store firearms. Storing firearms out of sight is not safe.
- Avoid locking devices that use keys if possible. Children often know where keys are kept.
- Ask family and friends to use these safe storage steps.
- Temporarily remove firearms from your home if a family member is depressed, suicidal or abusing drugs or alcohol.
How can I help keep my child safe at other homes?
Parents ask all sorts of questions before their children visit other homes, such as questions about booster seat and seat belt use, allergies and animals. Add firearm safety to the conversation. Ask if firearms in the home are stored unloaded and locked. Ask if the ammunition is stored separately. Ask about shotguns and rifles, too, not just handguns.
If you have doubts about the safety of someone else’s home, invite the children to play at your home instead.
How do I ask others about safe firearm storage?
Many of us feel awkward asking other people how they handle firearm safety. Research shows that 93% of parents, including parents who choose to own firearms, would be comfortable with being asked about a firearm in their home. Just present your concerns with respect, and consider using some of these words if you don’t know where to start:
- “Knowing how curious my child can be, I hope you don’t mind me asking if you have a firearm in your home and if it is properly stored…”
- “Mom, Dad, _________, this is awkward for me and I mean no disrespect. I am concerned Susie will find one of the firearms in your home when we visit. Do you keep them locked up with the ammunition stored separately?”
Consider sharing information on safe firearm storage with your child’s preschool, childcare or local PTA. The resources in the “To Learn More” section can help you get started.
The “asking about firearms” information was developed by the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign sponsored by PAX. Revised with permission by Seattle Children’s Hospital.
To Learn More
Suicide Prevention Resources
To contact the Safe Gun Storage Program at Seattle Children’s, please call 206-987-4653 or send an email.