Gun violence is a leading cause of death among kids in the United States, and mass shootings have happened at schools, shopping centers and movie theaters. What can you do to help protect your family from gun violence and the fear of being a victim?
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks about kids and gun violence with Walter Biffl, MD, a trauma surgeon and medical director of trauma and acute care surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.
Most parents readily prioritize safety measures like bicycle helmets or smoke alarms, and the same should apply to firearms. Responsible gun owners understand the importance of gun safety and will ensure firearms in the home are safely stored at all times — especially if children are present.
Guns should be stored in a safe or lockbox out of the reach of children, unloaded and separate from the ammunition. A trigger lock or gun lock can add another layer of safety.
It’s important for parents to educate children about gun safety as well. If there are guns in the home, formal gun training for young children is recommended. As they get older and become more independent, supervision should continue.
If your child is visiting someone’s home and you don’t know if they have guns, bring up the subject of gun safety without seeming confrontational. Dr. Biffl suggests a couple of ways to do so without it being a personal affront, such as saying your pediatrician recommends that you ask about guns in the home if your child’s going to be there, or you could add it to your list of playdate questions.
“It’s absolutely essential to have this conversation with parents, just as you talk about bicycle helmets and safety gates,” says Dr. Biffl. “It’s important to ask if they own guns and how they are stored. Mention to the parents the importance of keeping guns unloaded, in a lockbox separate from the ammunition, and considering trigger locks or gun locks.”
Dr. Biffl says it is fine to ask parents to verify that guns are stored safely, or even to take the kids to a park or someplace else where you would feel more comfortable. If your child sees a gun in a friend’s home, they should stay away from it and leave the home if they don’t feel safe.
“Prevention starts with education and preparation at home,” says Dr. Biffl. “Whether you’re a gun owner or not, I think it’s important to educate kids and other family members about the storage and use of guns and what to do when encountering a gun or a shooter.”
Schools may hold drills for “active shooters” to prepare kids for an actual shooting. While such drills may increase anxiety in some kids, Dr. Biffl believes they are valuable, especially for teachers.
“Drills are a very important part of injury prevention and preparedness. School active shooting drills are important for the teachers; they certainly need to have a plan and drill to that plan,” he says, adding that studies are being done to determine if drills may negatively impact children.
The first option in an active shooting situation is to get away from the shooter. Look for a way out and run. If you don’t have a clear path to exit, then hide. Trying to fight and subdue the shooter is the last resort.
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