Since that day, we haven't had another lapse. Instead, my husband has used his weapons knowledge and experience to expose our eleven-year-old son to gun safety. They have gone shooting together, cleaned the guns sitting side by side, and (thanks to the time my husband spent in the Marines) my son now knows how to reassemble a rifle in 1:14:00. Even with these strategies, I find myself asking, have we done enough? To answer that question, I turned to Common Sense about Kids and Guns, a non-profit group of owners and non-owners of guns who are "committed to working together to protect America's children from gun deaths and injuries." They offered the following tips for parentsa who own guns:
- Unload it and lock it up.
- Lock and store ammunition separately.
- Hide keys where children can't find them.
- Ask if guns are safely stored at places your children visit or play.
- Talk with your children about guns.
- Teach your children not to touch guns, and to tell an adult if they find one.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) agrees with these tips and encourages parents to talk openly with their children about guns. Their website states, "Talking openly and honestly about gun safety with your child is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to 'Stay out of the gun closet,' and leaving it at that. Such statements may just stimulate a child's natural curiosity to investigate further." Whether for or against gun control, the one constant theme in youth safety discourse is communication. The NRA also states, "As with any safety lesson, explaining the rules and answering a child's questions help remove the mystery surrounding guns. Any rules set for your own child should also apply to friends who visit the home. This will help keep your child from being pressured into showing a gun to a friend."
Following these rules, law enforcement homes can be safer. Talking with your children and teaching them about gun safety, as well as practicing responsible gun ownership can prevent a tragedy. As the NRA states, "In a home where guns are kept, the degree of safety a child has rests squarely on the child's parents." Due to this, officers whose lives are shattered by a firearms accident also face criminal sanctions. Imagine having your three-year-old child die as a result of your careless mistake. Now, imagine spending fifteen years in prison for manslaughter. It's a horrifying reality, but one that is preventable.
My only concern for law enforcement families, my own included, is the prevalent officer mentality that a gun is only useful if it's loaded. Like most citizens, officers intend to protect their home and family from harm. To accomplish this, they turn to the weapon they are most comfortable with. And I guarantee, it won't be unloaded and locked in a safe.