The Cold Hard FactsGiven these results, it's clear that while teaching your child the gun-safety commandment ("Stop, don't touch, leave the area, go tell an adult") is important, you can't stop there. The key to protecting your kids -- as young as preschoolers -- is to practice these rules in a realistic setting, say experts. Here's how:
* Role-play with an unloaded gun or a realistic toy gun. Run through various scenarios in different rooms in your home. For instance, put the gun in your bedroom, then in your living room, and ask your child to show you what she'd do if she found it there.
* Test her, once you're confident she understands what to do if she finds a gun. Place it in a room your child is about to enter and wait in a different room to see what she does. If she comes running to you right after discovering it and tells you she found it, great. But if you see that she's touched it without telling you about it, role-play and test her again.
* Repeat this safety training monthly to refresh what she's learned, whether you're certain she'll do the right thing in a real-life situation or not.
* Ask other parents or caregivers if they have guns in their home before you let your child play there. If they do, you have a right to know if the fire-arms are stored unloaded and in a locked area.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that no guns, even ones that are locked and unloaded, should be kept in a place where children live or play. But that's extreme and unrealistic in the U.S.
So where does that leave gun-owning parents? "It's essential to make sure all firearms are safely locked," says Todd Smith, editor-in-chief of Outdoor Life magazine, which has been reporting on guns and gun-safety issues for more than 100 years. Smith, an avid hunter, a gun owner, and a father of two kids, ages 10 and 7, advises parents to:
* Keep firearms unloaded and in a gun safe.
* Store ammunition separately from the firearms, in another locked storage cabinet or safe.
* Refrain from giving others the combination to the safe. If you must, limit it to your spouse or a close friend or relative.
* Take the mystery out of guns by showing them to your child, if he expresses interest. Let him touch an unloaded gun in your presence, or even take him to a shooting range if he's 5 or older. If he only knows about guns as secret objects of power hidden in your closet, he'll find them more enticing to seek out when you're not around.
Liam is now 6, and though my recurrent pre-playdate interrogations about what he'd do if he found a gun are inevitably met with rolled eyes and a grunt or two, he always gives me the answer I want to hear: "I'd walk away and tell an adult." Would he? I hope I never have to find out.