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January 17, 2007

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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

Guns & Kids

Another law enforcement family’s life was shattered after the accidental self-inflicted shooting of a 6 year old boy with his grandmother’s unsecured duty weapon on January 16th, 2007. The Cook County, IL correctional officer “always trigger-locked her gun and removed the bullets” said her daughter, the boy’s mother. But on Tuesday, the boy’s grandmother forgot to take those precautions and 6-year-old Jaylen Parker, who played with toy guns at home, found the handgun in the glove box of his grandma’s car and “became curious,” fatally shooting himself in the face.

“We have to pull together. We've got to hold each other up right now,” said the boy’s mother of her family in the wake of this unspeakable trauma. This mother’s strength and resolve is something to be admired, and law enforcement can support one of our own, and the entire family of little Jaylen Parker, by learning from this tragedy.

Off duty gun safety is just as important as firearm safety on the job, and many of the same safety rules apply, but there are additional points that officers must consider when dealing with kids and guns; here are just a few:

Kids are naturally curious.

That curiosity needs to be fed, needs to satisfied, whenever possible. It is generally not enough to just tell a child “don’t touch my gun;” in fact, making a firearm forbidden just makes it more fascinating to your average kid. Children are most curious about something they think is "off-limits" or mysterious.

Use age-appropriate methods to take the mystery out of your gun, and start as early as possible (age 2-3, depending on maturity). Explain to your kids how the gun works, let them touch it, even hold it once they've had proper instruction and it's been unloaded and made safe.

Even if you don’t ever bring your gun home, de-mystifying firearms for kids may one day save their life! Use “teachable moments” such as family discussions of the day’s news events to talk about the awesome power of firearms and the fact that they cause incredible and often irreparable damage to the human body. Kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, as long as we present it appropriately.

The Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program is still the “gold standard” when it comes to children’s firearms safety, take advantage of this excellent resource!

Keep the rules clear and simple for young kids: if you see a gun, any gun, stop, don’t touch, leave the area, and tell an adult.

Bring your family into your world.

We often keep our family members at “arm’s length” when it comes to our job, especially when it comes to our weapons. Talk to your family about why you carry a gun, how you train with it, and what they should do to help keep themselves, their friends and other family members safe around firearms…in other words, empower your kids to be part of the solution when it comes to gun safety.

Talk to them about your own training, why we aim for “center mass” and what our goals are when employing the use of a firearm at work. Show them your body armor and how it works. Many police officers take their kids to the range to let them hear and see a gun being fired (with their ears and eyes protected of course) to further de-mystify firearms and help kids gain respect for the power of a gun. I know cops who have taken a couple of beef roasts to the range, put a few well-placed duty rounds in them, and then let the kids see (and touch!) the damage.

Kids are experiential learners, take advantage! Remember, it doesn’t have to be scary, but it does have to make an impact.

Don’t forget about teenagers.

They come with an additional set of concerns, including potentially despondent times and friends with bad judgment or even criminal intent who know that a cop’s kids probably have access to firearms. Newsline has reported numerous stories over the years about police officer’s children who commit suicide or violent crimes with a parent’s duty weapon. Caution your teenagers about “friends” who may just want to get into your house to access your weapons.

Even if you don’t have kids, chances are you’ll have a small visitor in your home or a little passenger in your vehicle at some point. And don’t forget about securing your gun when you are a visitor in someone else’s home. Develop good habits when it comes to securing your weapons and use these methods consistently, wherever you are.

Calibre Press encourages you to share this information with every police officer and gun owner you know so that we can eliminate this type of tragedy in our profession and in our society.

About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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