During well-check visits I remind children of the responsibility parents have to ask questions about their friends and what is acceptable when visiting at a friend’s house. Children often interpret their parent’s questioning as an intrusion in their life and the life of their friends, especially when dealing with adolescents.

Due to the escalating number of guns in the home that are often left unsecured, parents must add one more question to the list when children are invited to play at a friends’ house or attend sleep-overs: Is there a gun in your home?

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes it very clear in this recently published article, (http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/35/6/27.5.full), that asking the question may feel awkward, but the harm it could prevent is worth the discomfort. “Before their children visit other homes, parents may ask about pets in the house, discuss allergies and Internet access, and inquire whether an adult will be home. Whether children can access guns also should be part of the conversation” says the AAP.

What should a parent do if the answer to the question is yes? Make sure all guns are stored unloaded, preferable in a gun safe, with ammunition locked away separately, according to the AAP. Hiding guns is not enough because children will look for and handle them. Preventing access to guns is important, because firearms injuries often are deadly.

Many deaths are caused when a child playing with a gun or showing it to a sibling or friend sets it off accidentally. This was the cause of death for 114 children under age 20, according to 2009 U.S. data.

Recent Statistics from the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence

  • On average 130 children and teens are unintentionally killed by a gun each year.
  • On average 3,235 children and teens are accidentally shot each year but survived.
  • On average 766 children and teens kill themselves each year.
  • On average 1,895 children and teens are murdered each year.

> View statistics on gun violence.

About one out of three homes with children has a gun, many unlocked or loaded. Most injuries and deaths are caused by handguns, but shotguns and rifles are a common cause of unintentional firearm injuries and suicides in rural areas. Research also shows that suicide deaths are higher in homes that have guns. Guns are the most common way that youth ages 15-19 committed suicide, according to U.S. data.

Simply teaching children to stay away from guns does not help, according to research on gun avoidance programs. In fact, these children might be more likely to handle a gun.

The most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries and death is to keep guns out of homes and communities, the AAP says. If guns cannot be removed, parents should restrict their access.

The AAP suggests that is a parent has any doubt about their child’s safety in a gun-owning home should encourage the children to play in their home instead.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.