Asking saves lives: A simple question can keep children safe from gun injury

Claire McCarthy, MD

Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

No matter how you feel about guns or gun ownership, I think that you will probably agree that when children have access to loaded guns, bad things can happen.

In fact, 80% of unintentional firearm deaths of children younger than 15 happen in a home — and 1.7 million children and teenagers live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun. Here are some other facts from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • 1 in 3 homes with children have guns, many unlocked or loaded
  • 3 out of 4 children ages 5 to 14 know where firearms are kept in the home
  • 17,500 youths are injured or killed each year due to gun violence
  • Guns are the second leading cause of death among children and teens.

That’s why every June 21st, the Brady Center and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to ask a very simple question:

Is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?

It’s such a simple question. Parents who own a gun should ask it of themselves — and before sending a child to another person’s house, they should ask it of the people living there.

There are two things that can be done to keep children safe from gun injury if there is a gun in the house:

  1. Lock up the gun
  2. Lock up the ammunition, separately.

Every parent who owns a gun should do this. If the people where a child is going to play don’t, parents should ask if they will. If they can’t or won’t, then the child shouldn’t go there, plain and simple.

This is about health and safety. You wouldn’t send your child in a car without seatbelts, you wouldn’t let them ride a roller coaster without being strapped in, you wouldn’t let them play with sharp knives or dangerous chemicals, you wouldn’t send them to a zoo where lions or tigers or other possibly aggressive animals were allowed to roam free. It’s about taking basic precautions. Think about it that way if you feel awkward asking.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that if you are feeling awkward, you could ask in a different way, such as, “My child is very curious. Do you have guns or anything dangerous he might get into?” The AAP also points out that while it’s understandable that people would feel that for safety reasons they should have their gun loaded and at the ready should there be an intruder, the reality is that a loaded, accessible gun is more likely to be used on a family member than an intruder — and could be discharged by a curious child.

Talking about guns can be difficult. It’s a politically and emotionally charged topic. But when it comes to children and safety, it’s one we need to talk about. Let’s start by asking the question: is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?


  1. Baljit Singh

    Very nice articles
    Dr. Baljit Singh

  2. Francesca Coltrera

    That sounds great–maybe you could post a link? I’d love to see the research that the NRA has done on how best to prevent gun injuries and deaths in children and I’m sure others feel the same way.

  3. James Boatright

    I doubt it does any good to reason with this type of person, William. Many odious anti-gun laws have been passed “to save the children.” If the author were actually concerned about children, she would support the excellent Eddie Eagle gun safety program offered to elementary schools by the NRA.

  4. William

    While the article is well intended, much legitimacy is lost by citing recommendations of the Brady Center, a very politically aligned anti-firearms organization. The suggestions of the author would carry more weight if not attributed to an organization so well known for militantly pushing political agendas. The NRA has long established and very successful programs for keeping kids safe from firearm accidents but by quoting a one sided view to the solution the author has shut out much of the potential audience.

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