Thursday, August 14, 2008

Family gun safety

Keeping guns while keeping your children safe takes a bit of planning, but doesn't require extreme expense or difficulty.

Childhood gun accidents are rare, and there are usually common contributing factors. If you pay attention to the details, you'll see things like drugs, prior police or children's services investigations, a convicted criminal living in the house, an unemployed boyfriend watching children from a previous relationship, subsidized housing or a trailer. (Most of these links fit multiple categories) Child accidents in stable middle class homes are even more uncommon, by a good bit.

Keeping children safe is relatively simple--you never leave a gun unattended even momentarily unless it is locked. Note that I don't specify loaded or unloaded. To do this while retaining a reasonable ability to use the gun for defense is a little harder, but still within reason. In general you trade access time for child-resistance.

The easiest and most effective method that I am aware of for handguns is to use a digital combination lock box or safe to store guns that are not holstered and under the direct control of an adult. You will need an extra 3 to 4 seconds to get the gun out. I have a small Honeywell box from Walmart in the bedroom, mounted to a wall and hidden. I have a larger Stack-On box mounted on high shelf in a closet as the main storage. If I were to start over, I'd get one of the smaller Stack-On boxes instead of the Honeywell. Either will do fine to keep a small child out, the Stack-on will slow a thief down a bit longer. Gun shops sell dedicated quick-access boxes, similar in concept, a bit sturdier, possibly a little faster to access. I'm told you should get the ones with a key backup--no personal experience.

If quick access is not needed, then a locking toolbox or locked closet are other options. Locking gun cabinets capable of holding long guns start around $80. Again, not enough to protect against a determined thief, enough to keep a child from getting hurt, as long as you do not leave keys around. Anything short of a full-sized fire-resistant gun safe should be attached to a wall or the floor.

If a handgun is used for defense, it remains loaded while locked up--There is little advantage to unloading for storage, and several additional risks. Negligent discharges are more likely the more a loaded gun is manipulated, and loading the same round of ammunition many times in a semi-automatic can result in the bullet being shoved too far into the case. When fired, the shoved-in bullet can create extra pressure, enough to burst the barrel and potentially injure the shooter. (Yes, you could just discard that round, but premium ammo is a bit expensive to do that often. It is OK to reload a round a few times--I partially empty the magazine, chamber the next round, then re-load the magazine)

Trigger locks are fine as extra protection for recreational guns, but aren't a good idea on defensive guns. They are slow to unlock, do not prevent theft, and they cannot be safely used on a loaded gun. I don't bother with trigger locks on my guns, since mine are stored in a locked container.

Be regular in your habits. If you carry, put the gun in a safe place as soon as you unholster. I don't have kids in the house, and don't lock my carry gun up when I take it off if I will be home with it--it becomes my "nightstand gun". However, I do put it in the same place every time. When I get dressed, or if guests come, I either put it back on or lock it up.

At some point when they are old enough to be curious children should be allowed to see your guns, unloaded and under close supervision to remove the mystery. Many gun owners have a dividing line--Once a child begins shooting a real gun (or in some cases an airgun) they are no longer allowed to play with toy guns, and must follow the four rules with all guns, even toys.

(Suggestions welcome in comments)


  1. I've got most locked up and my home defense on the back of an 8 foot entertainment center where I can reach it.

    I've tried trigger locks too and they are practically useless.

  2. Hidden in a high place is probably adequate for fairly young kids, but it makes me personally uncomfortable. It is more than the typical accident victims' families did. With my lifestyle and location, the risk of a home invasion is low enough that I would reduce the risks that the kids will climb and discover a stashed gun.

  3. I agree. Once they get a little older the honeywell box will be a must.

    I have drilled gun safety into their heads as well but kids will be kids.

  4. Um, do you have any statistical links for your assertions? I see you linked to stories, but none of them talk about how prevalent it is in say, low income vs middle income.

    My family never locked our guns, but then again, my dad drilled gun safety into our heads by about age 3 so it wasn't as big an issue.

  5. I can't prove my assertions with statistics. The initial idea came from policemen online making the same claim. The Dwayne Smail case was fishy to begin with, and got me in the habit of following up on the initial reports after a few days. The majority of the stories I've seen have some risk factor--Not always in the initial reports, nor reported as widely, but usually available after a few days.

    Getting the links I used strengthened my belief even more--I initially searched Google News for something like toddler gun accident (I forget the exact search term), then followed up on the stories I found there. Most of the stories I didn't use were because I'd already found an example of that category, only a few were because they didn't report anything that fit.

    I'm not trying to say that if you don't follow my rules children will die, but rather most injuries are due to extreme negligence. If you are teaching your kids gun safety, you are far ahead of the people I linked to. You are probably smart enough to take adequate precautions even if they aren't as strict as I personally like.