Kids & Guns: Strategies for avoiding firearms tragedies
By Lindsay Gebhart
PoliceOne News Editor
The L.A. Times reported Wednesday that LAPD officer Enrique Chavez was shot in the chest by his 3-year-old son. The child got hold of the officer's service weapon while the officer was stopped at a red light.
The bullet pierced though the officer's chest from the backseat, where the child was sitting unrestrained. Recent news reports say he remains in critical but stable condition. [Related article]
In another story a Fla. officer, Deputy Paul Turner, is on trial in the accidental shooting of a young girl by another child with his service weapon. [Related article]
These tragic incidents bring up an important question:
How do you balance the accessibility of your service weapon with the security measures needed to ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands?
Street Survival Seminar Instructor, Lt. Jim Glennon, said there are very diverse opinions about this topic, and none are completely right or wrong. The topic boils down to personal judgment.
In an interview with PoliceOne, Glennon mentioned that a couple of years ago an officer came up to him after the Off-Duty Section of the Street Survival Seminar and shared the fact that his five-year-old son had gotten a hold of his gun and killed himself. In light of that tragedy, that officer believes guns in the home should always be locked up and the weapon and ammunition should be kept in separate locations.
It is understandable that the officer feels this way.
Lt. Glennon, however, said that he personally takes a less stringent approach.
"I keep my gun loaded in the top drawer of my dresser in a lock box," he said. "I can still get to my gun in five to 10 seconds."
Glennon explained that a critical part of firearms safety at home is educating the people in your house about firearms. The first lesson, obviously, is that they are not to touch it for any reason, unless a crisis arises and they have been properly trained to do so. Second, they must be taught to understand the power of the weapon ... it isn't a toy.
In an article for the Street Survival Newsline, fellow Seminar Instructor Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith noted that children are most curious about something they think is "forbidden" or mysterious. She suggests using age-appropriate methods to take the mystery out of your gun.
"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," she wrote." 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 awesome power of a gun.
"If you choose to share your love of firearms with your kids, begin by teaching them the same basic gun-handling rules every recruit has been taught:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire.
- Be sure of your target and beyond.
Smith said the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program is a great place to start when educating young people on safe firearms handling. The program focuses on four simple rules:
- Stop. Take time to remember the safety instructions you have been taught.
- Don't touch. A firearm that is not touched or acted upon by an outside force is highly unlikely to spontaneously fire or endanger a person.
- Leave the area if you find a gun. By leaving the area, the child removes himself/herself from temptation, as well as from the danger that another person might pick up the gun and negligently cause it to fire.
- Tell an adult. If the adult is not personally trained in handling firearms, he/she should know enough to seek professional assistance in having the weapon removed.
"The initial steps of stop and don't touch are the most important," says Sgt. Smith. "A child's natural impulse is to touch a gun; it is imperative that you impress the first two messages on the youngsters.
"Remember, as a cop's kid, your child might be pressured to 'show off' mom or dad's duty weapon to young friends or playmates. There isn't a place in a house where a naturally inquisitive child can't find a gun."
Glennon said the way you educate your children about your weapon is completely up to you, and your decision is generally based on the culture around you. In some places hunting is very popular and children learn gun safety at an early age. There isn't any one way to do this.
"When my kids were teenagers I took them down to the range to teach them how to shoot. Other guys take them out a lot earlier."
The other aspect of gun safety is security. As your children mature and learn more about gun safety, the accessibility of the weapon can increase. Some officers choose to keep their weapons loaded, others separate the gun and the ammunition. Some store the gun in a lock box, others in a drawer.
Glennon said he knew his gun safety education was working when his son accidentally bumped into his gun while it was holstered.
"He immediately said, 'Dad, I touched your gun.'"
What's your off duty gun safety strategy?
Protecting your family with and from your service weapon is a complicated topic, so we want to know what you approach you take to gun safety at home.
• Where do you keep your service weapon when you are off duty?
• What methods have you used to teach your children about gun safety?
• What personal experiences have you had with this topic?
• What does your spouse think?
E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org