Did you know that a 3-year-old has the finger-strength to pull the trigger of a gun? That's scary news, especially since 11 percent of American families store loaded firearms in unlocked areas of their home, finds a recently published survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The best way to protect a child is not to own a gun. But if you do, take these safety measures:
- Keep the gun unloaded and stored separately from ammunition. Place both in locked boxes on a high shelf, out of a child's reach, says Denise Dowd, M.D., codirector of the Center for Childhood Safety at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, MO.
- Attach a steel safety device to the trigger or hammer so the gun can't fire.
- Talk to a dealer about outfitting the gun with a magnetic system that prevents it from going off unless the owner pulls the trigger.
Even if you don't own a gun, your child may visit others who do. Start discussing gun safety when he's a toddler, suggests psychologist Marjorie Hardy, Ph.D., who's conducted studies on children and guns. A good time to raise the issue is after your child sees other kids play with toy guns or watches a TV show that features guns. Convey these ideas:
Ages 2 to 3: "Never touch a gun. Get a grown-up right away if you see one."
Ages 4 to 6: "A gun can kill. Never play with a real one or point any gun -- even a toy -- at a person or an animal. Tell me if you see guns at a friend's house, and get an adult if someone wants to show you one."