No matter how parents feel about guns, there's a chance their child will come in contact with one at some point. Federal statistics show that as many as 50 percent of U.S. households contain guns. And while parents in many of those homes say they discuss gun safety with their children, others do not.
Parents who don't own guns are even less likely to discuss gun safety with their children, according to a National Poll on Children's Health conducted for the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in August. The poll, which surveyed 1,621 parents, found that 18 percent of those parents who reported having a gun in their household said they have never talked with their children about gun safety - while 52 percent of those who do not have a gun at home have not had that conversation.
With nearly 30 children injured or killed every day by firearms in the U.S., gun safety seems like something every child should be taught. Without proper education, preventative measures are nearly useless, according to Firearm Education information on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources‘ website at http://dnr.wi.gov/org/es/enforcement/safety/firearm.htm.
Keeping youngsters in the dark only insures that they will not understand the potential danger and increases the likelihood that they will seek to satisfy their curiosity without proper supervision, the DNR says.
"Guns are very much a part of our society and for parents to not address children's natural curiosity about guns is a mistake," said John Bronikowski, Recreational Safety Warden with the Wisconsin DNR's Southeast Region-South. "The best thing parents can do is talk to their children about it."
Here are some suggestions for starting the conversation:
Start now: "I don't think it can be too early, as long as the child is mature enough to understand what you are talking about," says officer Buddy Buchanan who, as the Racine Police Department's Officer Friendly, talks to kids in area schools about gun safety as part of a general safety presentation. Even before a child can understand detailed instructions, parents can begin by setting a proper and consistent example, says the Wisconsin DNR. "If parents treat guns with care and respect, children will likely follow their lead."
Keep the message simple: Even the youngest kids can be taught "Hands Off." Children should never handle a gun they find, even if they don't think it's real, said officer Buchanan. "Always treat a gun as if its real and loaded," he said. And drive home the point that once the trigger is pulled, there is no way to get the bullet back.
Eddie Eagle program: The National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program offers the following message: "If you see a gun: STOP!, Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult." Aimed at children as young as 10, the Eddie Eagle program was developed by a team of clinical psychologists, reading specialists, teachers, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials and law enforcement personnel. For more information go to www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie
Get Help from Professionals: Hunting safety courses are offered through the Department of Natural Resources for children as young as 10 years old. The classes, which cost $10, are available through the DNR's Sturtevant office and are held at locations throughout Racine County. Even kids who are not interested in hunting can benefit from the classes, said Bronikowski. The Recreational Safety Warden highly encourages parents to take the class with their children. "Every adult in the home should be educated about gun safety." For more information about the DNR's Hunting Safety classes, as well as general firearm safety in your home, go to: http://dnr.wi.gov/org
Firearms safety courses are also offered by area sportsmen's groups and shooting ranges.
General information about gun safety is also available on the DNR's website, as well as at the Sturtevant service station, 9531 Rayne Road. Questions can be directed to John Bronikowski at (262) 884-2383.
Free gun safety locks, as well as gun safety brochures (including a coloring book), are available at the Racine Police Department's Community Resource Office at Regency Mall. The office is located near the northeast entrance to the mall, across from the video arcade. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it is best to call before coming to pick up materials to make sure an officer is there. Call (262) 598-4140.
Be Proactive: Don't be embarrassed to ask other adults about gun safety practices in their homes before allowing your child to visit. Finding out if there are guns in the home and where they are kept is just part of being a good parent, Buchanan said. "You want to make sure any guns are secure and not accessible in any place your child is going to spend time." Even if the chances of your child encountering a gun in the home are slim, it is not worth risking that one chance it could happen, he said. "There is no take back with a gun."