*This is the third article in a three-part series about keeping little ones safe while protecting your family. Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF!

Kids & Guns: 5 Simple Steps to a Safer Home  Claim Your Guide

4) Recognize Common Mistakes

Getting children involved with firearms requires a lot of dedication and attention. Parents, teachers and instructors all know the importance of the universal safety rules and repetition of anything you want a kid to learn. Even so, accidents or mistakes may occur.

Research and statistics on firearms injuries tend to be skewed because self-inflicted injury and criminal gang activity are often included. However, researchers who analyzed data from hospitals in order to get a national representative sample of non-fatal injuries in children and adolescents (up to age 20) did uncover some interesting findings:

  1. The most common types of firearms injuries in children included open wounds, fractures and internal injuries of the thorax, abdomen or pelvis.
  2. In children under age 10, 75 percent of firearms-related hospitalizations were due to unintentional injuries.
  3. Rates of firearms-related injuries were highest for adolescents from ages 15 to 19 (27.94 per 100,000).
  4. Of all firearms-related hospitalizations, 89 percent were for males; the hospitalization rate for males was 15.22 per 100,000, compared with 1.93 per 100,000 for females.

Avoiding Firearms-Related Injuries

So how do we keep these injuries or errors from occurring? Beyond being vigilant about safety and keeping a careful eye on children, we must keep in mind that ages and stages come into play. Not every child will be ready, physically or mentally, at the exact same time or when he or she reaches some magic height, age or grade.

Watch your children. Talk to them. Look for signs that they might be ready to move forward in their training. Observe and accept clues that they are not ready. For instance, it is important to recognize that most children as young as 3 years old are strong enough to manipulate the triggers of many handguns. Therefore, keeping firearms out of their reach and saying, “No,” “Don’t touch” and “Not a toy” is imperative at this time. Also, children under the age of 8 cannot always tell the difference between real guns and toy guns or fully understand that playing with a gun might cause serious injury or death. In this case, they may not be able to comprehend the seriousness of the training.

A preteen girl in blue jeans and a bright pink shirt cocks her head to peer down he sights of a 1911-style semi-automatic handgun. The pistol's hammer is cocked back and the girl's finger is on the trigger. The girl is sitting on a bed, presumably in her parents' bedroom.

Most children don’t fully grasp that a firearm is capable of inflicting serious injury or death. Communication is key.

According to cognitive development theories, children between the ages of 3 and 7 are still guided by “egocentric thinking,” which means that they think only according to their own individual experiences, often making their thinking illogical. This is why children under the age of 5 or 6 will misunderstand events and will also have trouble expressing them. Since this age group is typically more curious, mobile, active and able, we need to guide them carefully. More physical ability and independence can easily put these children at higher risk for injuries.

As mentioned earlier, it’s imperative that you be willing and able to teach your children and watch them as well. Always supervise kids. Unintentional shootings most often occur when children are not being watched: in the hours when they are out of school, on weekends and during summer and holiday vacations. While it is impossible to watch children every minute of every day, setting rules, teaching safety and accident prevention, and knowing what they are up to are important parts of keeping your children safe around firearms.

5) Understanding CAP Laws

Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws are relatively new legislation intended to limit access to firearms and prevent injuries caused by children. It is important to know what laws are present in your state since CAP laws can impose criminal and civil liability on parents, guardians or other adults if children have unsupervised access to guns. These laws establish criminal penalties for owners who do not store firearms in the manner defined (for example, unloaded, in a locked compartment and separate from ammunition).

The NRA has lobbied against these laws, sometimes referred to as “mandatory storage laws,” arguing that they are unnecessary and ineffective, endangering law-abiding gun owners and infringing on their right to protect themselves in their homes. In addition, law-abiding gun owners run the risk of violating CAP laws and incurring civil or criminal liability for participating in legitimate recreational, training and competitive activities involving youth and firearms.

Four small metal gun safes used to securely store handguns away from children's access

When it comes to storing firearms, you must balance your ability to quickly access contents with keeping out unauthorized persons.

There are no CAP laws at the federal level. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the United States Supreme Court struck down laws that require “firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times.” The Court affirmed that “the need for defense of self, family and property is most acute” in the home, and the Second Amendment “elevates above all other interests” the right “to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Nevertheless, as of this time, many states have enacted CAP laws. Still others have laws that impose criminal liability on people who negligently store firearms where minors could or do gain access to them.

CAP laws can take a variety of forms. The strictest laws impose criminal liability when a minor is likely to gain access to a negligently stored firearm, regardless of whether or not the minor actually does gain access. The less-severe examples prohibit certain people (such as parents or guardians) from directly providing a firearm to a minor. There is also a wide range of laws that falls somewhere between these extremes, including laws that impose criminal liability for a negligently stored firearm when a child uses the firearm and causes death or serious injury. Other laws impose penalties in the event of reckless, knowing or intentional conduct by the adult. State CAP laws also differ on the definition of “minor,” ranging from children under 14 to those under 18.

Following is an overview of some current CAP laws:

  1. Criminal liability is imposed on people who negligently store firearms under circumstances in which minors could gain access to the firearm, regardless of whether the minor actually gains access to or uses the firearm.
  2. Criminal liability is imposed on people who negligently store firearms, even when the firearm is unloaded.
  3. Civil liability for damages resulting from the discharge of a firearm is imposed on people who negligently store firearms when a minor gains access.
  4. All firearms are required to be stored with a locking device in place.

According to a study entitled “Safe Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides and Crime” by John R. Lott and John Whitley, there is no evidence that CAP laws reduce juvenile accidental firearms deaths or suicides. Instead, these laws make it harder for law-abiding gun owners to protect themselves. Out of 10 states that had CAP laws for at least four years, relative violent crime stopped falling when these statutes were adopted, and violent crime ended up even higher at the end of the four-year period. The only consistent effect found was that CAP laws were significantly related to higher rates of rape, robbery and burglary.

About Beth Alcazar

Boasting several training certifications including TWAW, SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute and I.C.E. Training, Beth Alcazar is enthusiastic about safe and responsible firearms ownership. She has nearly two decades in the firearms industry and is a Certified Training Instructor and Senior Training Counselor for the USCCA and Training Counselor, Chief Range Safety Officer and Certified Instructor for the NRA. The associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, Beth also uses her experience and degrees in language arts, education and communication management to author the Pacifiers & Peacemakers column as well as Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals.