Gun Safety Rules for Families

No child is immune from the risk of firearm injury. Many injuries occur within the home or at the homes your children may visit, and children as young as 2 are strong enough to pull the trigger. That’s why everyone should know gun safety rules.

If you keep a gun in the house, it’s important to learn about safe gun storage. And even if you don’t own a gun, you should know firearm safety basics, such as asking about guns in homes where your child visits or plays.

parents talking to teen about gun safety

Any child could be at risk for firearm injury. Millions of Americans own firearms, and children of all ages can—and often do—find and use guns at a friend’s or relative’s house.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risk for pediatric firearm injury. A 2021 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revealed that while total pediatric hospital visits decreased by more than 40% in 2020, firearm-related visits increased by nearly 39%.

Even before this surge in gun-related hospital visits, the risk for pediatric firearm injury was consistently high. According to the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • An estimated 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun.
  • Children pulled the trigger in 241 unintended shootings in 2019.
  • Every day, 87 children are injured or killed by guns in the U.S.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in kids ages 10 to 19, following unintentional injuries. And the risk of death by suicide is 4 to 10 times higher in homes with guns.
  • Firearm injury is the fourth-leading cause of death in kids ages 5 to 9.
  • Firearm injury is among the top 10 causes of death in kids ages 1 to 4.

No child is too young or old to be injured by a gun. That’s why it’s crucial to practice firearm safety and follow safe storage guidelines.

dad unloading gun and storing separately from ammunition

If you keep a gun in the house, follow these safe storage guidelines:

  • Unload the firearm. Never keep a loaded gun in the house (or car).
  • Lock the firearm. We suggest using a lockbox or gun safe. You can use trigger and/or cable locks as additional safety measures.
  • Add layers of protection. Teens can be impulsive, acting without thinking about consequences and engaging in risk-taking behaviors, so it’s important to add layers of security:
    • Store ammunition locked in a separate location from firearms.
    • Try to use personalized lockboxes or combinations rather than keypad lockboxes.
    • Store lockboxes and safes out of reach and sight.
    • Keep keys away from kids and teens.
  • Never assume hiding your gun is enough. Kids young and old are curious and resourceful. Think about it—how many times did you find gifts stowed away as a kid?

dad asking another parent if there is an unlocked gun in the house

Asking other parents, friends and relatives about guns can be an uncomfortable conversation. But a few moments of discomfort will never outweigh the importance of keeping your child safe.

Consider this—most parents would never hesitate to talk to someone about their child’s life-threatening peanut allergy. So why shy away from another crucial safety conversation?

Our tips for having the conversation:

  • Make it routine to ask about any safety-related concerns before you drop your child off at another person’s home (e.g., will an adult be there to supervise?). If you make it a habit, you’ll feel more comfortable asking.
  • Try to ask before making plans. This way, you can make an informed decision about where your child spends time. If you’re not comfortable, you can always invite the other child to your house instead.
  • Lead with information about your family. If you lead with statements about your home, the conversation may feel less personal. For example, try something like “My child isn’t a confident swimmer. Will you let me know if you’ll be around water? We also don’t keep firearms in the home. Do you?”
  • Be clear and direct. Rather than make assumptions about someone’s home, ask clear and direct questions so you are fully aware of the situation. It’s OK to simply ask, “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” Keep in mind, this isn’t a personal attack or a debate about someone’s beliefs or rights—it’s about your child’s safety.

If your child has an injury or is showing signs of illness, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 and/or visit an emergency department immediately.