The safety of our APS students and staff is always our top priority, and in this year’s legislative package, we are advocating for stronger laws to keep guns out of the hands of children.
Secure Firearms Storage | Modeling Responsible Behavior | Preventing Child Firearm Suicide
Secure Firearm Storage
Experts Agree: In order to prevent access, firearm storage practices should include three methods employed in combination—unloading the ammunition, locking the firearm, and storing the firearm and ammunition in separate locations.
- Unload: Gun owners should remove all ammunition from the firearm, including removing any chambered rounds.
- Lock: Unloaded firearms should be secured with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lock box. Locking devices, safes, and lock boxes are equipped with keys, combinations, or biometric technology that limit access. Remember: Firearm locks do not prevent gun theft.
- Separate: Ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm in a secure location. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concludes that the absence of guns from homes is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents. But if there are guns in the home, AAP notes that storing guns unloaded and locked, with ammunition kept in a separate place, can mitigate the risk of child firearm injury.
Modeling Responsible Behavior Around Firearms
It is always an adult’s responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns. Numerous studies have shown that the majority of children are aware of where their parents store their guns and that more than one-third reported handling their parents’ guns, many doing so without the knowledge of their parents. Nearly a quarter of parents did not know that their children had handled the gun in their house. Modeling responsible behavior means that SMART adults make sure that children don’t have the opportunity to access guns. That said, you can’t always control the environment that a child is in, so you should teach them not to touch a gun if they come across one, real or pretend, and give them the tools to get out of a dangerous situation, and to alert an adult. As an adult, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to prevent them from getting into a dangerous situation to begin with.
Asking About Secure Firearm Storage in Other Homes
Owning a gun is a personal decision, but secure storage is a public safety issue. Kids and unsecured guns are a potentially lethal combination. Fortunately, a simple conversation can help keep children out of harm’s way. It doesn’t need to feel strange or awkward to bring up the issue of how guns are stored. Many unintentional shootings happen in the homes of relatives, friends, or caregivers. It’s very possible that some of your family members or close friends have unsecured guns in their homes. It’s important to ask each time your child will visit, as storage practices and gun ownership may change. Never make assumptions when a child’s safety is at stake. It’s up to all of us to keep our children safe. These simple conversations with your friends, caregivers, and relatives before your child visits can help save lives.
- Sample Conversation Starters
- Part of general safety conversations: “Before I drop my son oﬀ, I just wanted to check to see if you have pets? And also ask if you have ﬁrearms in your house and conﬁrm how they are stored. I want to make sure he knows your safety rules.”
- Part of other teen safety conversations: “Hey, excited the kids are getting together over the weekend. I know that they’ve hung out quite a bit, but my daughter has never been over to your house so I want to conﬁrm a couple of things: Will an adult be at the house the whole time? Also, I heard a story on the news that made me decide I should always ask this—do you have any ﬁrearms, and how are they stored? Do you need me to pick her up or can you give her a ride home?”
- If you know that the homeowner or your family member is a gun owner: “We are looking forward to spending time with you and with the whole family. I know I have never asked this before, but after hearing about a recent unintentional shooting in the area, I just have to ask: how are your guns stored? The kids get into everything, and I don’t want to spend the day looking over my shoulder worried about them, or the rest of the kids. (Option: I’m happy to purchase gun locks if you don’t have them.)”
- Sample Text or Email Starters
Sometimes these conversations are easier via email. Try “sandwiching” your question amongst other questions and information. For example:“I know my son hasn’t been to your home before and I do like to ask a few safety questions. He is skittish around dogs, do you have any? Also, do you own any ﬁrearms, and if so, how are they stored? Finally, will they be playing video games? We only allow limited time on ones rated ‘E.’ He doesn’t have any allergies. For future reference, no pets, and no ﬁrearms at our home. Thanks so much.”
- Share Your Own Secure Gun Storage Habits
If you are a gun owner, volunteer information about your own secure gun storage habits, and let your friends and family know that you are open to having the conversation with them:“Hi, we just got a new puppy—I wanted to ﬂag in case there were any allergies. Also, I wanted to let you know that we hunt in the fall, but our guns are stored securely, locked, unloaded with the ammunition stored separately. It’s important for us to know about your gun ownership and storage practices ahead of time too. Can’t wait to see you!”
Preventing Child Firearm Suicide
Gun violence has a devastating impact on children in America. In fact, 40 percent of child gun deaths are suicides—that’s nearly 700 child gun suicides each year. One study showed that over 80 percent of children under the age of 18 who died by gun suicide used a gun belonging to a parent or relative. For people of all ages, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times.
Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. In fact, 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun result in death—a much higher fatality rate than any other means of self-harm. This contributes to the fact that 40 percent of child suicides involve a gun.A national survey of high school students found that 17 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide within the last year. And one study showed that 41 percent of adolescents in gun-owning households report having “easy access” to the guns in their home.
Research shows that secure ﬁrearm storage is associated with a decreased risk of child ﬁrearm suicide. One study showed that households that locked both ﬁrearms and ammunition had a 78 percent lower risk of self-inﬂicted ﬁrearm injuries among children and teenagers.
The risk of gun violence and self-harm have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, with kids experiencing increased levels of stress and isolation, and more guns being purchased. These factors make it even more important that firearms are stored securely.
Signs to look for when concerned that a loved one may be suicidal:
- Prolonged sadness and depression
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Aggression or agitation
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Talking about killing themselves
Some additional key steps you can take to support your loved one include inviting an honest conversation, listening and supporting your loved one, and encouraging them to see a mental health professional or a primary care physician.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Call 1-800-273-8255. Available 24 hours a day.
- Trevor Project, the LGBTQ youth suicide prevention line, Call Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386.
- Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.
Helping a Child Who Could Be a Threat to Themselves or Others
Examples of potentially dangerous or emergency situations with a child or adolescent include:
- threats or warnings about hurting or killing oneself
- threats or warnings about hurting or killing someone
- threats to run away from home
- threats to damage or destroy property
Child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that it is very difficult to predict a child’s future behavior. A person’s past behavior, however, is still one of the best predictors of future behavior. For example, a child with a history of violent or assaultive behavior is more likely to carry out his/her threats and become violent.
How To Get Help
When a child makes a serious threat, it should not be dismissed as just idle talk. Parents, teachers, or other adults should immediately talk with the child. If it is determined that the child is at risk and/or the child refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues to express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrangements should be made for an immediate assessment by a mental health professional with experience evaluating children and adolescents.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress, 988 is a free resource available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
- You can call or text 988, or use the online chat at www.988lifeline.org
The Student Support Line provides support for bullying, isolation, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health issues. Calls are anonymous and confidential. The School Support Line is available 24/7 for students, parents, and staff.
CALL 833-Me-Cigna (833-632–4462)
Additional gun violence prevention resources
The information on this page was provided by Moms Demand Action (momsdemandaction.org). Visit the Virginia chapter on Facebook.