GUNS AND CHILDREN - HANDGUN OWNER RESPONSIBILITIES
Summary of Safe Storage Laws Regarding Children
You may be guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony if you keep a loaded firearm within any premises that are under your custody or control and a child under 18 years of age obtains and uses it, resulting in injury or death, or carries it to a public place, unless you stored the firearm in a locked container or locked the firearm with a locking device to temporarily keep it from functioning.
You Cannot Be Too Careful with Children and Guns
There is no such thing as being too careful with children and guns. Never assume that simply because a toddler may lack finger strength, they can't pull the trigger. A child's thumb has twice the strength of the other fingers. When a toddler's thumb "pushes" against a trigger, invariably the barrel of the gun is pointing directly at the child's face. NEVER leave a firearm lying around the house.
Child safety precautions still apply even if you have no children or if your children have grown to adulthood and left home. A nephew, niece, neighbor's child or a grandchild may come to visit. Practice gun safety at all times.
To prevent injury or death caused by improper storage of guns in a home where children are likely to be present, you should store all guns unloaded, lock them with a firearms safety device and store them in a locked container. Ammunition should be stored in a location separate from the gun.
Talking to Children About Guns
Children are naturally curious about things they don't know about or think are "forbidden." When a child asks questions or begins to act out "gun play," you may want to address his or her curiosity by answering the questions as honestly and openly as possible. This will remove the mystery and reduce the natural curiosity. Also, it is important to remember to talk to children in a manner they can relate to and understand. This is very important, especially when teaching children about the difference between "real" and "make-believe." Let children know that, even though they may look the same, real guns are very different than toy guns. A real gun will hurt or kill someone who is shot.
Instill a Mind Set of Safety and Responsibility
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that adolescence is a highly vulnerable stage in life for teenagers struggling to develop traits of identity, independence and autonomy. Children, of course, are both naturally curious and innocently unaware of many dangers around them. Thus, adolescents as well as children may not be sufficiently safeguarded by cautionary words, however frequent. Contrary actions can completely undermine good advice. A "Do as I say and not as I do" approach to gun safety is both irresponsible and dangerous.
Remember that actions speak louder than words. Children learn most by observing the adults around them. By practicing safe conduct you will also be teaching safe conduct.
Safety and Storage Devices
If you decide to keep a firearm in your home you must consider the issue of how to store the firearm in a safe and secure manner. California recognizes the importance of safe storage by requiring that all firearms sold in California be accompanied by a DOJ-approved firearms safety device or proof that the purchaser owns a gun safe that meets regulatory standards established by the Department. The current list of DOJ-approved firearms safety devices and the gun safe standards can be viewed at the DOJ website.
There are a variety of safety and storage devices currently available to the public in a wide range of prices. Some devices are locking mechanisms designed to keep the firearm from being loaded or fired, but don't prevent the firearm from being handled or stolen. There are also locking storage containers that hold the firearm out of sight. For maximum safety you should use both a firearm safety device and a locking storage container to store your unloaded firearm.
Two of the most common locking mechanisms are trigger locks and cable locks. Trigger locks are typically two-piece devices that fit around the trigger and trigger guard to prevent access to the trigger. One side has a post that fits into a hole in the other side. They are locked by a key or combination locking mechanism. Cable locks typically work by looping a strong steel cable through the action of the firearm to block the firearm's operation and prevent accidental firing. However, neither trigger locks nor cable locks are designed to prevent access to the firearm.
Smaller lock boxes and larger gun safes are two of the most common types of locking storage containers. One advantage of lock boxes and gun safes is that they are designed to completely prevent unintended handling and removal of a firearm. Lock boxes are generally constructed of sturdy, high-grade metal opened by either a key or combination lock. Gun safes are quite heavy, usually weighing at least 50 pounds. While gun safes are typically the most expensive firearm storage devices, they are generally more reliable and secure.
Remember: Safety and storage devices are only as secure as the precautions you take to protect the key or combination to the lock.
RULES FOR KIDS
Adults should be aware that a child could discover a gun when a parent or another adult is not present. This could happen in the child's own home; the home of a neighbor, friend or relative; or in a public place such as a school or park. If this should happen, a child should know the following rules and be taught to practice them.
- Stop - The first rule for a child to follow if he/she finds or sees a gun is to stop what he/she is doing.
- Don't Touch! - The second rule is for a child not to touch a gun he/she finds or sees. A child may think the best thing to do if he/she finds a gun is to pick it up and take it to an adult. A child needs to know he/she should NEVER touch a gun he/she may find or see.
- Leave the Area - The third rule is to immediately leave the area. This would include never taking a gun away from another child or trying to stop someone from using gun.
- Tell an Adult - The last rule is for a child to tell an adult about the gun he/she has seen. This includes times when other kids are playing with or shooting a gun. Please note that, while there is no better advice at this time for children or adolescents who encounter a gun by happenstance, the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians reports that such warnings alone may be insufficient accident prevention measures with children and adolescents.
METHODS OF CHILDPROOFING YOUR FIREARM
As a responsible handgun owner, you must recognize the need and be aware of the methods of childproofing your handgun, whether or not you have children.
Whenever children could be around, whether you're own, or a friend's, relative's or neighbor's, additional safety steps should be taken when storing firearms and ammunition in your home.
- Always store your firearm unloaded.
- Use a firearms safety device AND store the firearm in a locked container.
- Store the ammunition separately in a locked container.
- Always storing your firearm securely is the best method of childproofing your firearm; however, your choice of a storage place can add another element of safety. Carefully choose the storage place in your home especially if children may be around.
Do not store your firearm where it is visible.
Do not store your firearm in a bedside table, under your mattress or pillow, or on a closet shelf.
Do not store your firearm among your valuables (such as jewelry or cameras) unless it is locked in a secure container.
Consider storing firearms not possessed for self-defense in a safe and secure manner away from the home.
Source: State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General