Preventing Childhood Gun and Shooting Accidents

Girl playing with handgun
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You can't safely avoid the topic of childhood gun and shooting accidents, whether your family owns a firearm or not. These accidents highlight the importance of learning about gun safety and discussing gun safety with your pediatrician and your children. Learn the steps you must take to prevent potentially fatal accidents.

Gun and Shooting Accident Statistics for Children

According to the NCHS Vital Statistics System, there were 77 unintentional firearm deaths in children under the age of 18 in the U.S. in 2015. An additional 948 nonfatal gun and shooting accidents resulted in an estimated 461 children needing to be hospitalized for their injuries.

Putting a face on a tragedy makes it more meaningful than just looking at the numbers. Examples of gun and shooting accidents involving children include:

  • A 4-year-old in East Orange, New Jersey was unintentionally shot in the head and killed by his 6-year-old brother while playing with his mother's gun.
  • A 4-year-old in Philadelphia died after she unintentionally shot herself in the face with a gun she found in a bedroom of her home.
  • A 4-year-old in Elgin, Iowa died after he unintentionally shot himself in the head while visiting a home with his mother.

Most gun and shooting accidents involve children who find unsecured, loaded guns around the house or in the family car. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement says, "The absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents." However, many families have firearms at home and gun ownership has not decreased in recent years.

Gun Safety Advice for Parents

Learning about gun safety is important to help prevent these types of gun and shooting accidents. Unfortunately, many parents don't store their guns safely, even when they have young kids in the home. The AAP notes that these measures can reduce unintentional injury and suicide for children and teenagers by 70 percent.

To protect children from gun and shooting accidents, the typical gun safety advice that you will get from your pediatrician includes that you:

  • Keep your guns locked.
  • Keep your guns unloaded.
  • Keep your ammunition locked.
  • Keep your ammunition in a separate area from your gun.
  • Keep the keys and combinations to the locked areas hidden.

A safe or lock box is a good place to store your unloaded guns and your ammunition. A trigger lock can also provide extra security when you store your unloaded guns in a safe or lock box.

Don't count on your children simply knowing what to do if they find a gun. Much to their parent's surprise, many kids who find a gun will handle it. Many will even pull the trigger, being unsure if the gun is real or a toy.

As with other types of child safety, having multiple layers of protection is the best way to protect children. You want to prevent them from accidentally finding a loaded gun, or finding an unloaded gun and ammunition and loading it themselves. Otherwise, they may end up accidentally shooting themselves, a family member, or a friend.

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Article Sources

  • WISQARS. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
  • Gun Safety Tips. Safe Kids Worldwide.
  • Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population. Pediatrics. 2012;130(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2481.
  • Gun Safety: Keeping Children Safe. American Academy of Pediatrics.