A Gun in the House

We are reposting this question after the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut to remind all our readers of the facts about gun safety. Our intent is to help put minds at ease.

 Dear Mamas,

My partner and I have been together for 5 years and our daughter is 16 months old. Jeff grew up in the Midwest and his family always owned guns. When we moved in together his gun came, too. It made me pretty uncomfortable, since I was raised in a very anti-gun home in the Northeast, but he’s a nut about gun safety, and keeps them locked  and out of sight, so I’ve pretty much been able to forget about it (or at least pretend it’s not there).

Now that our daughter is a toddler, and can get into places I never even knew existed, I’m starting to worry constantly about having a gun in the house. It’s really gnawing at me, and last night I had a nightmare and woke up terrified that the closet had accidentally been left unlocked and she had climbed inside while we slept.

PLEASE talk me off this cliff. I’m afraid if I tell Jeff to get rid of the gun he’ll laugh at me and refuse, and then what? Do you have any information from “the experts” that might either help him see it my way, or ease my mind so I can learn to live with it?

I can’t stand feeling this way,

Laura

Dear Laura,

If only we could tell you to go ahead and relax — your fears are unfounded. But unfortunately, we can’t. Gun violence has become a public health crisis in the United States, and children are often the victims.

Every two hours someone’s child is killed with a gun, ei­ther in a homicide, a suicide, or as a result of an unintentional injury. And that doesn’t include the children who are seriously wounded—of­ten irreversibly disabled—by guns, but survive. One in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the US is due to gunshot wounds.

Here’s a statistic that may surprise you: a gun in the home is forty-three times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than a burglar or other criminal. The best way to prevent firearm injuries and deaths is to NOT own a gun. However, if you choose to have them in your home, the rules you should enforce are:

  • Never allow your child access to guns or the place where they’re kept.
  • Never keep a loaded gun in the house or the car.
  • Guns and ammunition should be locked away safely in separate locations in the house; make sure children don’t have access to the keys, even if you think they’re too young to use them.
  • Guns should be equipped with trigger locks.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs with guns nearby.

While convincing Jeff to get the gun out of your home would undoubtedly make you feel better, it’s not the total cure you’re hoping for. Half the homes in the United States contain firearms, and more than a third of all accidental shootings of children happen in the homes of their friends, neighbors, or relatives.

As your little one gets older you need to let her know that guns may exist in places she visits. Tell her if she sees or encounters a gun in another home she must steer clear of it, and tell you about it. As she grows and starts having play dates, talk with the parents and find out if they have guns in the house. If they do, consider whether you’d rather be the play date host.
Make sure she understands that violence on TV and in the movies is not real. In real life, children are killed and hurt badly by guns. Kiddos must learn that weapons can be extremely dangerous.
Sorry we haven’t done much to quell your anxiety, but this is big, important stuff that parents need to confront head on. Share this information with your sweetie and explain just how worrisome it is for you — maybe he’d consider storing his gun outside your home.
Stay safe!
~ Your Mamas

 

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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