GunPolicy.org (2012) has estimated that there are nearly 300 million firearms owned by civilians (non-military, non-law enforcement) in the United States. Of these, 100 million are handguns; the most easily accessible by children. Nearly half of all gun owners in the United States live in households with other people, including children.
If you own a gun you are responsible for making sure it is secured at all times.
The safest way to secure a gun is to store it unloaded and separately locked away from any and all ammunition. Most gun accidents happen with guns that are loaded, even when they are hidden. Storing your gun unloaded, locked, and separated from all ammunition greatly reduces the risk of gun accidents.
Project ChildSafe® "is a nationwide program whose purpose is to promote safe firearms handling and storage practices among all firearms owners through the distribution of safety education messages and free firearm safety kits” (2012).
Please see their website for a list of local enforcement agencies near you that distribute these safety kits.
Ensure both the gun and the ammunition are locked and stored away from children. An American Academy of Pediatrics study, conducted with boys ages eight through twelve, found that nearly two-thirds of the boys would handle and pull the trigger of a real gun if found. Children are naturally curious and might find your gun while exploring other areas of your home. Ensure your gun is locked and secured in an area that is not easily accessible by children, especially if they can access the location of the gun and/or ammunition unsupervised.
The key to your gunlock should be hidden in a place where kids are unable to find it. Gunlocks are readily available, and many police departments may provide gunlocks free of charge. However, the locks can only function as a safeguard if the keys to the locks are also kept away, secured, and hidden from children.
Never leave your gun unattended. Many people own guns for recreational hunting or target sports. Consider cleaning your weapons away from the home at gun ranges or with friends who do not have children. However, if you plan to clean your gun in your home, NEVER leave your gun unattended. Secure your gun immediately after cleaning or servicing.
In addition to a gun lock, consider purchasing a gun safe. The key to a gunlock may be easily found by a curious or determined child. For additional safety, you may want to consider purchasing a combination gun safe. Never tell a child the combination to your gun safe, and never allow your child to have access to it.
Be open about gun ownership. Just as you would let potential visitors to your home know whether you had a swimming pool, you should let the parents of children who visit your home know that you are a gun owner. Although this may feel a bit uncomfortable, your openness will be appreciated. At a minimum, inform all babysitters and other caregivers that there are guns in your home and let them know these areas are off limits for children. Finally, you should keep the location of your guns secret.
If you own a gun and would like to safely remove the gun from your home permanently, you should contact your local police department or the state police for more information. If the gun is legally owned you can surrender the firearm to the police who will safely destroy it.
In most states, there is no amnesty for illegal firearms. If you have an illegal firearm the police may prosecute if the weapon is found to have been used in a crime.
Check the gun laws in your state for more information on requirements of gun storage and locks. In Massachusetts, “all handguns, rifles and shotguns in a dwelling must be kept in a locked container, such as a safe, or equipped with a ‘tamper-resistant’ mechanical lock or other safety device,” (MassLive.com, 2012).
If you are thinking of buying a gun:
Know the risks. Owning a gun is a serious decision, and it should not be made lightly. The increased risk for accidental death, homicide, and suicide are factors that must be duly considered. Also, consider the mental health of the people living within your home and whether owning a gun puts you, your family or others at risk.
Explore alternatives. Many people purchase guns as a means of protection. Before buying a gun, consider other safety options. A home alarm system with a direct lifeline to the police, fire department, and ambulance may help you feel safe in your home without the added risk of a gun.
Prepare in advance. All states have requirements before purchasing a gun, and some states require additional safety training. Even if safety training is not mandatory in your state, consider attending a safety course before you decide to purchase a gun. Also, when planning your purchase, make sure to budget for a gunlock and ideally a gun safe in which to store your gun and ammunition.
Secure your gun immediately. Secure your new gun immediately by unloading and locking it and the ammunition in separate places. Make sure the keys to the gunlocks and safes are also hidden and all combinations are kept secret.