How can you protect your children and teens from guns?

How can you protect your children and teens from guns?

Gun violence is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-17 in Illinois. In 2021, it surpassed motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of death for all children in the United States. These deaths can be from suicide, homicide or accidental intent. Additionally, children who survive gunshot wounds may need prolonged periods of rehab and suffer additional trauma related to the injury.

As a parent, there are ways to decrease your child’s risk with respect to firearms. We know that the safest home for a child is a home without a gun or when guns are stored outside the home, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). We also know that almost all firearm owners are safe, responsible owners who want children, their own and others, to be safe. Children are naturally curious, and many of them know where guns are in the home. Kids as young as three years old may be strong enough to pull a trigger if they find an unsafely stored firearm. It’s recommended that guns are stored unloaded and locked up with a lock box, cable lock or gun safe with the ammunition stored separately, according to the AAP.

Parents can talk to children of all ages about gun safety. Tell younger kids not to touch guns, let an adult know if they see one and assure them they will not get in trouble for speaking up. Talk to adolescents about guns, along with your discussions on drinking, smoking, drugs, safe driving and sex.

It is also important to talk to other parents about guns if your child is going to spend time at their home. Practicing and normalizing these conversations can make them easier over time. Ask if they have a gun in their home, and if they do, ask how it is stored. If it is not stored safely as described above, consider asking the other child over to your home instead.

It’s also very important to routinely check in on your child’s mental health. The AAP recently declared a state of emergency for mental health for children. We know that guns are by far the most lethal method of suicide attempts. Please seek help from your pediatrician if you have concerns.

Thank you for doing all you can to keep your children – and all children – safe from guns.

Dr. Deanna Behrens works in pediatric critical care at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge.

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  1. With mass shootings an almost daily occurrence, in addition to firearm safety in the home, it is imperative to implore our government policy-makers to take common sense actions to reduce gun violence and deaths in this country. Red flag laws, bans on assault weapons, background checks and raising the age to be able to purchase a gun are needed now to address the abovementioned trauma, injury and death in all age groups, but especially children.

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Dr. Deanna Behrens