Table of Contents
Children are parents’ most valuable assets, but they are playful, active, curious and impulsive. Although these are all healthy traits, they can cause death when mixed with firearms.
The best way to protect children against gun violence is of course to remove all guns from a home, but if guns are kept in a home, like in a country where crime is rife and a person needs to be able to defend him or herself and the family, this is not always the option.
As long as there are guns in houses though, there will always be danger. The only solution that remains is to store and handle those firearms with utmost responsibility, maintain strict discipline as gun owner and teach your children gun safety.
The average child witnesses many acts of violence on television, in movies, and through computer games, of which many involve firearms.
A child often imitates what he or she sees and may also act more aggressive after extensive viewing such violence or playing violent video games.
Parents should help protect their children from the effects of gun violence portrayed in these media platforms and emphasise the belief that such behaviour is not the best way to resolve a problem.
Often though, tragedies where children and firearms are involved, is caused by sheer negligence on the side of parents, therefore it is important for any parent who also wants to own a firearm, to take the utmost care regarding firearm safety and education.
Some crucial actions that can be taken to lessen the dangers for children
If you and your children have to live with firearms in the home, at least make sure of the following:
- Store all firearms unloaded and uncocked in a securely locked safe or strong room that adheres to the Firearms Control Act and other relevant regulations in South Africa.
- Only the parents should know where such a safe and its keys, if applicable, is located
- Store guns and their ammunition in separate locked locations where possible
- For a pistol, make use of a trigger lock and for a revolver, place a padlock around the top strap of the weapon to prevent the cylinder from closing, or use a trigger lock too.
- When handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended, not even for a moment. The gun should be in your view at all times
Even parents who don’t own a gun, should check with parents at other places where their children go to visit and play, to make sure proper safety precautions are followed since many accidental shootings occur in the homes of friends or relatives.
These kinds of tragedies usually take place when children are left unsupervised.
When adolescents also have access to, and use alcohol when there is a gun available, the risk for violence rapidly increases. Research overseas has revealed that youth suicide victims who used firearms were much more likely to have been drinking than those who used other means.
Factors that may contribute to firearm accidents
Before suggesting any safety suggestions about firearm usage, it is important to identify the contributing factors to these types of accidents.
Many firearm accidents occur because the operator mistakenly believed that the firearm was emptied, made safe, or otherwise disabled when in fact it was ready to be discharged.
Such misunderstandings can arise from a number of sources, like the following:
- The handler of the firearm may execute the steps of procedures such as loading, firing and emptying in the wrong order or omit important steps of such procedures.
- Misunderstandings about a firearm’s status may occur, like a handler who thinks the safety is on when it is not. He or she may think the chamber, or the magazine was empty, while there may be a round of ammunition in either of them. A handler may receive a firearm and assume it is in a certain state without checking first if it was true.
- Mechanical failures caused by wear, faulty assembly, damage or faulty design of a firearm can cause it not to function as intended. The safety may have been worn down to a point where it is no longer functioning properly or broken or worn parts in the trigger, sear or hammer/striker may have given the firearm a very sensitive trigger. Sensitivity to impact may cause a firearm to discharge if it is dropped or struck against any object.
Safety rules for parents related to using or storing a firearm near children.
Proper maintenance and care can prevent accidents and safety guidelines should include the following:
- Ensuring your firearm is in good mechanical condition before firing it.
- Have your firearm checked regularly by a qualified armourer or a factory certified gunsmith for signs of erosion, cracking, or wear.
- Never try to fire a gun which may have a plugged or partially obstructed barrel.
- Refrain from any modifications made to a firearm. If needed, it should only be made by a qualified individual and should never impede the firearm’s safety
- All accessories, such as holsters and grips, must be compatible with the firearm and not impede with its safe operation.
- It is the parent, usually the owner’s responsibility to ensure that a firearm is always under your personal control, or properly secured from access by children or other unauthorised parties. Always lock away your firearms when they aren’t in use.
- When you have to store a firearm for a long period, consider storing the slide, bolt, or other critical components of the firearm under separate lock and key.
- Never carry a single action revolver with a round under the hammer unless that revolver is a modern transfer-bar type, equipped with an inertial firing pin.
- Never carry a pistol with a round in the chamber unless the pistol has an automatic firing-pin block and/or an inertial firing pin.
- Never carry or store an external hammer-type firearm with its hammer cocked. Take extreme care when de-cocking any external hammer firearm since it is easy to experience an accidental discharge while doing so if your thumb slips off the hammer.
- When unloading a firearm drop the magazine and then eject the round which may be left in the chamber, instead of working the cartridges through the action one-at-a-time.
- Never use a scope mounted on a firearm as a general purpose spotting scope since you may end up accidentally aiming your firearm at others while observing an area.
- Don’t try to catch a live round by cupping your hand around the ejection port while retracting the slide when unloading a semiautomatic pistol. Doing so may result in an accidental discharge.
Safety rules related to ammunition.
Firearms are only dangerous when there is ammunition involved, so pay close attention to correct and safe ammunition, as well as its handling.
- Make sure your gun and ammunition are compatible since shooting incorrect ammunition in a firearm may damage it or even make it blow up.
- Relying on ammunition which doesn’t feed reliably may make your firearm malfunction at a critical stage.
- Use only ammunition recommended by its manufacturer for your firearm.
- The safety of reloaded ammunition directly depends on the care, components, equipment, and practices used when preparing it.
- Use reloaded ammunition with extra care. Some firearms manufacturers specifically forbid the use of reloaded ammunition in their products and will void a product’s warranty if you use reloaded ammunition against their instructions.
- Carry only one calibre of ammunition when shooting. Accidentally grabbing the wrong ammunition can result in a shooter or third party being injured, or damage to a firearm.
- Store ammunition that isn’t being used under lock and key, inaccessible to unauthorized parties and children.
Safe firearm storage
Firearms are dangerous even when it is not handled, so a parent must pay close attention to the safe storage of his or her firearm.
Measures to prevent unauthorised access to a firearm by minors include the following:
- The use of a proper safe for securing firearms which need to be kept available for ready-access defensive use
- The use of trigger locks or padlocks to secure firearms.
- Gun security devices which rely only on physical strength to secure firearms from unauthorised use are not desirable since ingenious children may potentially employ leverage or tools to override those devices.
- Just hiding a firearm won’t secure it from discovery and possible misuse by curious children.
- Gun safes should be used to safeguard firearms from unauthorised access in most circumstances.
- Firearms should be stored unloaded and separate from ammunition when the firearm isn’t needed.
- You can store critical components of a firearm, such as the gun’s bolt or slide, separately from the rest of the firearm when the gun won’t be used soon.
- At the same time you should consider “gun-proofing” a child by proper training, and by controlled and closely supervised access to firearms to reduce his or her natural curiosity about firearms.
Gun safety for children
Even while children are still too young to be allowed to handle firearms at all, they can be taught some rules around firearms:
Teach them not to touch, to leave an area where guns are handled and to tell an adult if they witness someone else accessing or handling a firearm without supervision.
The purpose of such rules is to prevent children from unintentionally handling firearms. They should be taught to avoid contact with firearms and as they grow older, taught how to behave when coming into contact with firearms.
Make use of a firearm’s and safety mechanism
Most firearms are equipped with a safety device, which is usually located near the firearm’s action. Common types include the slide, lever, wing, hammer, trigger block and button safeties.
Consult the owner’s manual if you are unsure about how your firearm’s safety works or how to tell when the safety is in the on or off position and always keep your safety on until ready to fire your gun.
Many safeties block the trigger but not necessarily the gun’s firing mechanism, so that a hard blow in the right place may still discharge a firearm, thus, never depend on a safety alone to prevent a gun from firing.
Cleaning firearms in the presence of children
Too many accidents occur when parents are negligent when cleaning their firearms.
Safety advice when cleaning firearms include:
- Always first make sure the firearm is unloaded
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction
- Don’t rely on a firearm’s “safety” alone
- Wear eye and ear protection when cleaning the gun.
If you decide to keep guns in the home, be aware that teaching kids about gun safety, or to not touch a firearm if they find one, is not enough.
You can, however, reduce the chances of children being injured by following important safety rules like storing all guns in your home safely locked and unloaded, with ammunition locked separately.
Make sure children and teens can’t access the keys or combinations to lock boxes or gun safes. Never keep loaded, unlocked guns in the car, or anywhere else on your property.
When using a gun for target practice, keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire it. Always unload a gun before setting it down.
As much as a child may want to try shooting, children are not capable or responsible enough to handle a potentially lethal weapon.
Parents must also keep their children safe in other homes. Many unintentional shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbours, or relatives, therefor it is also important to make sure your kids are safe when they spend time where other people live.
Add the question whether there may be an unlocked gun in a house to your playdate checklist.
Even if you don’t have guns in your own home, ask about guns and safe storage at the homes your children visit, the same way you’d ask about pets, allergies, supervision and other safety issues before your child visits another home.
Lastly, talk to your children and emphasise that, if they ever come across a gun, they must stay away from it and tell you immediately.