There are few topics in the news today as hot as firearms. Guns and ammo are flying off the shelves even as others are calling for stricter gun laws and less access to firearms for the average citizen. Wherever you stand on the “gun debate,” as a law enforcement officer firearms are a part of your everyday life. We all know that owning and using a gun comes with incredible responsibility, but cops also need to see themselves as role models, advocates and resources for firearms safety. About 600 people die each year in the U.S. from accidental gunfire, including police family members, and primarily children. It takes very little strength to pull the trigger on a gun, so we must be diligent in the safe handling and storage of our own firearms, beginning in our homes.
Gun safety starts at home
In the academy we all learned the basic rules of firearms safety. Those are the same rules you should be sharing with your family, and you need to do it early and often. If you have young kids in the house, make sure they do not have unsupervised access to a loaded firearm. Several times each year a cop’s kid is killed with that officer’s firearm. Because we are so comfortable with guns, we can become a bit too relaxed, leaving a loaded gun where little ones can access it. This has led to tragedy for more than one police family, including criminal charges against the officer. You have to balance your own accessibility to a loaded gun, so protect your home and family with safe, “kid-proof” storage.
Recognize that kids are crafty
They’re also tenacious and unrelenting when trying to access something they’ve been told is “off limits.” A 1990’s study showed that most kids could access their parents’ “secured” firearm within a matter of minutes, whether it was in a lock box or secured with a trigger lock. More recently, a tragedy in Texas occurred when a police officer’s two children accessed his off-duty gun from his department-issued gun safe. The younger of the two children was accidently shot and killed; the safe was found to be easily opened just by shaking it. Think like a kid when it comes to securing your firearms at home. And again, keep in mind that the more mysterious firearms seem, the harder your kids (or any other kids in your home) are going to try and find it.
Remove the mystery
I just read on a child health website that “guns in the home should be kept hidden at all times from children. They should never know that a firearm is in your house.” I find that statement not only ridiculous but downright dangerous. The more mysterious you make guns, the more tempting they become to kids. You can teach your two-year-old not to stick his finger in an electric wall socket, so start teaching him about gun safety, too. Using age appropriate terms and details, explain to your kids how a firearm works, why you carry one, what they are used for, and how dangerous they can be. The more children know, the less curious they are. If you are comfortable doing so, sit down with your kids and take your handgun apart and explain what each piece is. Let them look through the barrel, properly hold the frame, and see how all of the pieces fit together. Help them understand that a firearm is a tool, not a toy.
Make shooting a family activity
Presuming you keep firearms in your home, you shouldn’t be the only one in the house who is familiar with them. Your spouse, partner, older kids and close friends should be familiar with what you own, where you store them, and ideally, how to safely and properly operate them. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to make shooting a family activity. If you’re not comfortable being the family instructor, there are great courses and camps for both kids and adults to learn the basics of firearms. Very often in this profession we struggle with our relationships. Getting involved in something fun together is a great way to bring our family and friends into “our world.”
Off duty officer safety
One of the many advantages of teaching firearms safety, skills and awareness to your family and friends is that it tends to lead to better off-duty officer safety for you. If your spouse and kids understand where, when and why you carry an off-duty gun, they’re more likely to be supportive. Encourage your civilian spouse or partner to obtain a concealed carry permit. On every outing, let the family know which firearm you’re carrying and where. Make it part of your family routine.
Remember, the word “ethos” means “habits.” Bring those “warrior ethos” home and share them with your family and friends. Your family, your community, and our country will be safer.
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith retired in 2009 as a 29-year veteran of the Naperville, IL Police Department. Beginning her career as a police dispatcher at age 17, Betsy became an officer four years later and has held positions in patrol, investigations, narcotics, juvenile, hostage negotiation, crime prevention and field training. Betsy is a popular keynote speaker at conferences and events throughout the United States, Canada and around the world.