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October 26, 2010
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

Guns and kids: Safety is a family affair

If you keep guns in your home, make sure you are not the only member of your family who is familiar with them

The terrible event in Battle Ground (Wash.) last month that resulted in the death of a Clark County deputy’s three year old son should serve as a stark reminder that we need to control the firearms we bring into the lives of those we love. No one knows this better than former federal police officer Mike Lesnick. On the morning of November 29, 2007, Lesnick’s three year old son Joshua found a loaded handgun in a bedroom nightstand and fatally shot himself in the chest. Lesnick, who plead “no contest” to misdemeanor charges in 2008, is now a staunch advocate of family gun safety and takes full responsibility for his role in Joshua’s death.

Mike openly shares his heartbreaking story with anyone who will listen, but he primarily reaches out to law enforcement because he knows that as police officers, we often become so comfortable around firearms that complacency sets in and we may unintentionally leave a loaded firearm where children can access it. PoliceOne has several great articles and videos on this topic and here are a few more things to think about when it comes to kids and guns and safety.

Firearms Safety is a Family Affair
If you keep guns in your home, make sure you are not the only member of your family who is familiar with them. Ideally, you should familiarize your spouse, partner, kids and other members of your close inner circle with the firearms you regularly have with you or store in your house. Teach your kids how a firearm works, why you carry one, what they are used for, and how dangerous they can be. The more kids know, the less curious they are.

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If you’re comfortable enough, get your children (or grandchildren) involved in shooting sports. Take them to a hunter education course or enroll them in an NRA or similar kid’s firearms course or camp. If you’re a firearms instructor, conduct basic safety classes for your co-workers’ family members. The better educated your family and friends are, the more likely they are to correct you when they see you making a gun safety mistake.

Tap Into Your Inner Child
When trying to decide how and where to store the firearms in your home, try to think like a kid. Children know all of our usual hiding places (remember when you were a kid how easy it was to find the “hidden” Christmas presents every year?). Kids tend to have amazing tenacity, dexterity, and cunning when it comes to getting their little hands on that gun they know is somewhere. Put yourself in their mindset, climb up on chairs, get down on the floor. Test your gunlocks and your gun safes, and then set rules that are clear, consistent, and understandable to the youngsters in your life.

Make Your Kids Gun Safety Advocates
The other day three of my teenage daughter’s closest girlfriends came over after school. These girls know us well and spend plenty of time at our house, so to them firearms are just part of the Smith household décor. However, they brought with them eight members of the high school football team. Their plan was to hang out in our rec room for an hour or so before that night’s football game, but our rec room is also the staging area for my husband’s hunting trips, so there were a number of unloaded, uncased long guns lying around. Even though no ammunition was accessible, I looked each boy in the eye, shook his hand, and politely said “welcome to our home, leave the guns alone.” Now, I have two boys of my own, so I know that the only thing these guys actually heard was the word “guns,” so I growled at my slightly embarrassed daughter to “make sure they leave the rifles alone” as I sent them all downstairs.

She is a confident gun handler and hunter and knows the rules well; but she also knew that mom was testing her so I knew she would be vigilant. Finally, I grabbed her girlfriends and empowered them to monitor the situation and report back to me. All went well; the kids blasted their music, played Wi shooting games, and admired all of the “Buck Savage” paraphernalia, but no one went near any of the firearms.

Remember that Kids Talk
I enjoy having a house where the kids like to hang out (lets admit it, it makes it easier to spy on them) but any cop knows that the more kids who come into your home, the more likely the word will get out that “the cop family” has guns in their home, whether or not you actually do. Accept this inevitability and make sure that you secure your home and your firearms from potential teenage burglars who may decide your house is an easy mark.

Don’t Forget About Gun Safety Outside the Home
In Chicago on January 16, 2007 a 6-year-old boy accidently shot himself with his grandmother’s service weapon that he found loaded in the glove box of her car. She became momentarily distracted and he became overwhelmingly curious, fatally shooting himself in the face. I know cops who will toss a pistol in their purse, coat pocket, briefcase, or gym bag and head out. Make sure you keep control of that weapon wherever you are and however you carry it or transport it.

We talk a lot in the Street Survival Seminar about how “complacency kills” when it comes to our officer survival, but complacency can also cause an unspeakable tragedy when it comes to the children in your life. Stay vigilant when it comes to family gun safety, and as always, stay safe.

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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