Firearms and Children
No. 37; Updated June 2022
The United States has the highest rate of gun-related death among developed countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), guns are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. Accessibility to guns is the leading risk factor for youth death due to accidental shooting, suicide, and homicide. The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home. If guns are kept in the home, there will always be danger.
Over 40% of all homes in the United States have at least one gun. Despite continuing educational efforts, the majority of these guns are kept loaded, unlocked, and potentially accessible to children. Even if parents don't own a gun, they should check with adults at other places where their children play, to make sure safety precautions are followed. Research shows that many accidental shootings occur in the homes of friends and relatives. Tragedies often take place when children are left unsupervised.
Research on brain development shows that young brains continue to mature and develop into the mid-twenties. In particular, the frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for decision making and understanding future consequences are not fully developed until early adulthood. Young children have difficulty accurately assessing risk and adolescents may be prone to risk-taking behavior and acting impulsively. When adolescents use alcohol and also have access to a gun, the risk for violence rapidly increases. These developmental considerations make access to guns particularly dangerous for children and adolescents.
Research has shown that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators. However, children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral problems may be more likely than other children to be harmed by guns. Parents who are concerned that their child might be at risk of harming themselves or others should seek an evaluation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional.
The following actions are important to lessen the dangers:
- The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home.
- Store all firearms unloaded and decocked in a secure lockbox or gun safe. Only the parents/guardians should know where guns are located.
- Store the guns and ammunition in separate locked locations.
- Use a trigger lock.
- While handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended, even for a moment.
- If you would like to surrender a gun, contact your local police department.
- Advocate for the strict enforcement of laws around purchase, ownership, and storage of guns, as well as safety measures such as trigger locks, extended waiting periods, mandatory background checks and other initiatives designed to protect children and reduce gun related violence.
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