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Gun Safety & Difficult Questions

By kjolet on May 14, 2013 in Blog What's New with No Comments

Gun Safety & Difficult Questions

I think it would be difficult to find a more controversial subject that gun safety in America. Any conversation that mixes the Second Amendment, protection of home and family along with a pinch of Texas fierce independence, and you’ve got only what would politely termed a “debate.” And the people talking about this subject are often not polite. Strong opinions exist on the various sides of this “debate.” As a pediatrician, however, I am almost exclusively interested in a child’s right to grow up in a safe home. I am interested in a child’s right to be safe, to not be accidentally killed by a friend, or to prevent that child from being the one who accidentally shot his little sister. I may have opinions about assault weapons and background checks, but my passion, and I’ll admit, anger, is reserved for irresponsible gun ownership that results in funerals with tiny coffins.

The “debate” will rage on. I think we’re going to struggle over this one for a generation, maybe several. I have all too little political power and even less financial power to change policy, and even communally, we have nothing compared to the political and financial power of the titans who are fighting about this in Washington. Let them fight. It makes almost zero difference in your home TODAY. What can you do to make your home safer for your own children, and for the children who visit your home? Furthermore, how can you safeguard your children when they play at others’ homes?

In Pediatrics, as in most of medicine, we’re about risk avoidance and reasonable risk reduction. We reduce the risk of infectious disease with vaccines. We reduce the risk of death in motor vehicle accidents with child safety seats. We reduce the risk of SIDS by having babies sleep on their backs. So to me, the same rules should guide our thoughts on gun safety. That being said, I think that we need to do better with gun safety than just reducing risk. We can actually get to zero preventable accidents if we follow some very simple rules advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

• Firearms should be in a locked container.
• Ammunition should be stored in a separate, locked container.
• Kids shouldn’t be given access to the key or combination.
• Firearms should be used only with direct parent supervision.
• Problem solved, right?

The AAP actually goes farther and advises that the safest home for a child is one that doesn’t have a gun in it at all. I agree with that. But that may not be realistic for all of my families. I have families with police officers that need to keep their service weapon in their homes. We live in a state where hunting is cultural, a legacy passed on from father to son, and in many circumstances provides meat for the entire year. And logically, we don’t reduce the risk of disease with hermetically sealed bubble suits or reduce the risk of motor vehicle accidents by never owning a car.  The NRA would argue that you can’t protect your home from an intruder if you have so many barriers to an effective weapon. But in the realm of mitigating risk, if we know that the risk of gun-related accident is dramatically higher than needing protection from home intruders, what do we do to make the overall risk lower? We protect against accidents. To move toward that goal of zero preventable accidents, then:

• Firearms should be in a locked container.
• Ammunition should be stored in a separate, locked container.
• Kids shouldn’t be given access to the key or combination.
• Firearms should be used only with direct parent supervision.

Now throw in a little complexity:
• Make sure this is true wherever your kid plays.

That means you have to ask questions. You might have to start talking to your friends and neighbors about their opinions about the Second Amendment. It might mean you have to confront your parents or father-in-law about how they store their weapons. If you’re anything like me, I find this incredibly uncomfortable. One of my families has developed an interesting take on this and developed an organization called SafeHome411 (www.SafeHome411.org) which tackles this tough question: How do I ask my friends about how they store guns in their home? Is your home a Safe Home?

I would challenge you to ASK THE QUESTIONS before you let your child have a play date in a friend’s home or even stay at Grandma’s house. We may feel very uncomfortable, but I so strongly encourage you to push past that discomfort to protect your kids from an accident that could literally destroy your family.

Please note that this is a blog post that represents the opinions of Dr. Jolet and not necessarily Southwest Pediatric Associates or the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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