You know gun safety; do the par­ents of your child’s play­mate?

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Wil­liam Porter

Mass pub­lic shoot­ings are ran­dom events, and their preven­tion some­times seems im­pos­si­ble. But ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings in a pri­vate home dur­ing a child’s play­date can be stopped.

The big­gest firearm threat to many of our na­tion’s chil­dren is an un­se­cured gun that is within reach in their home or a friend’s.

Each year, more than 140 chil­dren die in ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings, and an­other 3,000 are in­jured, ac­cord­ing to the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health. About one­fourth of vic­tims un­der the age of 14 ac­ci­den­tally shoot them­selves.

Last week, a 9-year-old boy in south­ern Colorado died af­ter be­ing shot by his 8-year-old brother. The in­ci­dent oc­curred Jan. 4 when the two boys found a hand­gun in a parked ve­hi­cle they were in. The chil­dren were in the care of a fam­ily friend while their par­ents were at a med­i­cal ap­point­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Trinidad Po­lice Depart­ment.

With an es­ti­mated 270 mil­lion to 310 mil­lion civil­ian-owned firearms in the United States, and with a re­ported 37 per­cent of house­holds with a gun owner, par­ents have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that guns and am­mu­ni­tion are safely stored — and to broach that ques­tion with house­holds where their kids might visit.

Even par­ents who have talked with their chil­dren about gun safety, whether it’s the proper han­dling of a weapon or a strict “Don’t touch — go and tell an adult” ap­proach, should not take their child’s good judg­ment for granted.

Con­sider this: In a study pub­lished in 2006 in the An­nals of Pe­di­atric and Ado­les­cent Medicine, re­searchers at fam­ily-prac­tice clin­ics in ru­ral Alabama con­ducted a test. More than 400 par­ents were sep­a­rated from their school-age chil­dren, and both were asked ques­tions about guns in the home. They found that more than one-third of par­ents who re­ported that their son had not han­dled a house­hold gun were

con­tra­dicted by the child.

It can be tough to ask fel­low par­ents about their gun-safety prac­tices, even among fel­low gun en­thu­si­asts, whether they are hun­ters, recre­ational tar­get shoot­ers or col­lec­tors. And in Colorado, with its mix of sub­ur­ban­ites, many of whom don’t own guns or are out­right anti-gun, and ranches and farms, where guns are of­ten con­sid­ered nec­es­sary tools, that cul­tural meet­ing can be awk­ward.

Par­ents should ad­dress the sub­ject of firearms in the same way any po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous ob­ject should be dis­cussed, says Don Shifrin, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton School of Medicine in Seat­tle.

“When I ask about guns in the house, I ask in a neu­tral way, and if the an­swer is yes, I then fol­low up with ques­tions about safe stor­age and am­mu­ni­tion stor­age,” says Shifrin, a spokesper­son for the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics. “Just like bikes or scoot­ers or skis, it is im­por­tant to ad­vise and as­sist fam­i­lies to safely use all the tools in the house whether it is a stove, iron, lamps, TV or guns.

“Any­thing that presents a dan­ger to chil­dren needs to be asked about and ad­vised with com­mon sense.”

Den­ver par­ent Kim O’Brien says the ques­tion is eas­ier to broach if the per­son you’re ask­ing is a rel­a­tive or fam­ily friend.

But she says it’s im­por­tant to ask the ques­tion of any home­owner your child might be vis­it­ing, if only to as­sess a gun owner’s judg­ment.

“I asked a woman, ‘Do you own any guns?’ They did, and they were in a gun safe,” O’Brien says. “But the gun safe was in their 8-yearold’s room. What? I never let my kids go there again.”

Kristi Dougherty of Den­ver flatly re­fuses to let her 13-year-old daugh­ter visit a house where there are guns.

“I do not al­low it and am not shy about ask­ing,” she says. “I’ve asked it at the get-go. It’s just an is­sue that is on my mind.”

But Dougherty has an in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship with the is­sue, and ac­knowl­edges the tug that firearms, es­pe­cially hand­guns, can ex­ert.

“When I was 20, I held a 9mm hand­gun,” she says. “I’ll never for­get the rush I felt. I mean, this feel­ing of power just came over me.”

She pauses. “There are peo­ple who should not own guns. I’m one of them.”

Fred­er­ick Ri­vara, who is on the fac­ulty of Har­borview In­jury Preven­tion and Re­search Cen­ter in Seat­tle, says a par­ent’s ap­proach to the ques­tion should be friendly but firm.

“If a par­ent is drop­ping off their child at a friend’s house and they were go­ing to go on an out­ing in­volv­ing car travel, they of course would make sure the kid had a car seat or booster seat,” Ri­vara says. “I’d say, ‘I al­ways check with the fam­i­lies of any homes that Johnny is vis­it­ing to see if they have any guns. Johnny is like any­one his age, cu­ri­ous, and I don’t want him or his friends to get hurt. Do you have any guns in the home? If so, are they locked so Johnny and his friends can’t get at them?’

“If the an­swer is yes, they have guns, and no, they are not all locked up, then I think the par­ents shouldn’t let their kids go over there. Pe­riod. It is not ask­ing par­ents to get rid of their guns, only tak­ing ap­pro­pri­ate steps to make sure no one gets hurt.”

Rene Ramirez, a re­tired state em­ployee liv­ing in Aurora, grew up in south­ern Ari­zona in a house­ful of hun­ters, in­clud­ing his father and six brothers. Each child had his own .22-cal­iber ri­fle, shot­gun and deer ri­fle.

While gun safety was taught at an early age, the guns and the ammo were stored un­se­cured in clos­ets and cab­i­nets.

Things changed when Ramirez be­came a par­ent. “I still had my guns but re­al­ized that safe stor­age was im­per­a­tive. I didn’t want my chil­dren or their friends to be able to get to them,” he says.

Preven­tive mea­sures in­clude gun safes and such devices as trig­ger locks and cables that can be threaded through the bar­rel and locked, not un­like a bi­cy­cle lock. Par­ents should con­sider en­rolling their chil­dren in a firearms safety class, es­pe­cially if Mom and Dad are gun own­ers. Out­door stores such as Bass Pro Shops and Ca­bela’s pe­ri­od­i­cally of­fer th­ese cour­ses.

“In to­day’s world, I strongly sug­gest that the ut­most in care be used when deal­ing with your own guns and in en­vi­ron­ments where guns can be avail­able,” Ramirez says. “I would not hes­i­tate to ask par­ents in an in­quir­ing way whether they hunt or have guns. I can start the con­ver­sa­tion by stat­ing my fam­ily his­tory of hunt­ing, and ask­ing whether their fam­i­lies had the same.

“Even if there is a neg­a­tive re­ac­tion, I would still rather be safe by ask­ing than sorry I didn’t,” he says. “I would rather cre­ate an un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship than at­tend an un­for­tu­nate fu­neral.”

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