Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Firearms Responsibility in the Home

A topic that has come up recently in comments here and at other sites is the "Four Rules" of gun safety, as well as general firearms responsibility, such as safe storage of firearms.

Here is a link to a pamphlet that is released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which I think is very well put-together for this topic:

though they put more faith in the presence of children than I do (see below).

Also, from the Ceasefire Oregon website  (

Protecting Your Family:
Other factors change, but there's one common denominator in every unintentional firearm injury: access to a loaded firearm. The most important thing parents, caregivers and gun owners can do to protect children is reduce their access to firearms and safely store all guns.
Here's what gun owners can do:
• If you have children in the home, any gun is a potential danger to them. Seriously consider the risks.  
• Store firearms unloaded, locked up and out of children's reach.
• Store ammunition in a separate, locked location.  
• Use quality gun locks, lock boxes or gun safes on every firearm. Gun locks, when correctly installed, prevent firearms from being discharged without the lock being removed.  
• Keep gun storage keys and lock combinations hidden in a separate location.  
• Take a course in using, maintaining and storing guns safely.  
Here's what all caregivers can do:
•  Talk to your children about the potential dangers of guns.  
•  Teach children never to touch or play with a gun.  
•  Teach children to tell an adult if they find a gun, or call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if no adult is present.  
•  Check with neighbors, friends or relatives--or adults in any other homes where children visit--to ensure they follow safe storage practices if firearms are in the home.  See our ASK Program.
I might add, I grew up in a home with guns, and none of these rules were followed.

I don't recommend you have a firearm of any kind in your home if:

  • you have children or teens in the home at any time
  • you have anyone in the home, including yourself, who is depressed, undergoing traumatic events such as divorce, or has expressed suicidal feelings or actions in the recent past
  • you are uncomfortable with or untrained in usage of your firearms (such as when a firearms-trained spouse dies or if you have become unable to wield them safely, such as by health problems like blindness, advanced Alzheimer's, or palsy).
  • you have anyone in the home or visiting who is mentally ill in a way which causes erratic or violent behavior.
  • you or anyone in the home has a history of violent behavior or arrests for violent behavior, including domestic violence

Now, I can predict some responses to these suggestions, particularly with my feelings about children and teens.  Some of you might be inclined to use the "Not my child!" excuse to counter my firm belief that even the most mature and responsible children and teens have moments of curiosity and impulsiveness, and that you can't control for their friends at all times, and that this puts those children at risk if there are guns in the home, even if they have been trained in safety and appropriate usage.  I know it from my own childhood, including a suicide of a teenage friend and a fatal shooting that I was involved in (as a witness from just a few feet away from the shooter and victim, both teens). 

Consider the following statistics:
  • Among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had (Baxley and Miller, p. 542).
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home, usually a parent’s firearm (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).
  • When storage status was noted, about two-thirds of the firearms had been stored unlocked (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).
  • Among the remaining cases in which the firearms had been locked, the youth knew the combination or where the key was kept or broke into the cabinet (The National Violent Injury Statistics System, p. 2).

Baxley, Fances, MD, and Matthew Miller, MD, ScD. “Parental Misperceptions About Children and Firearms.” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 160 (2006): 542-47.

The National Violent Injury Statistics System. Youth Suicide: Findings from a pilot for the National Violent Death Reporting System. Boston: Harvard Injury Control Research Center: Harvard School of Public Health, 2009. Originally accessed through Harvard School of Public Health: Means Matters. Source of Firearms in Youth Suicides. Boston: Harvard School of Public Health, 2009.


  1. "I don't recommend you have a firearm of any kind in your home if:"

    I respectfully disagree. I do believe access should be restricted in such cases though. I have a bolt down safe that is top notch and I have the only key on my person at all times.

    However, what measures do you propose then are to be used for home defense? I love guns but they aren't for everyone, but defense against rapists and murderers are for everyone.

    "I know it from my own childhood, including a suicide of a teenage friend and a fatal shooting that I was involved in (as a witness from just a few feet away from the shooter and victim, both teens). "

    Very interesting. I lost a friend in high school, he was bipolar and he used a shotgun to commit suicide, very impulsively. Super great guy so it was very sad. Did witnessing that shooting play a pivotal role in your decision to be an anti-gun activist? Also, if you don't mind talking about it - was the shooting murder or self defense or an accident? Thanks!

  2. @ I Love Peace: Thanks for your comments.

    You are wise to lock the guns in that manner, and to keep the key on you at all times.

    With kids around, I don't recommend deadly weapons at all. There are less-lethal weapons available, which may wound or reduce an attacker's ability to attack. And then there's self-defense training (my son takes kung fu, for instance).

    However, the best practice is to harden your place so that a home invader or robbery is less likely. See my previous post for those suggestions:

    The suicide was a friend of mine who was 13, when I was 15. He was home alone after school and used the family's Colt .45 revolver, bought for self defense. His sister came home and found him. He was a bit of an awkward kid, but no one saw the warning signs.

    The shooting was between two teens (16 and 18), fighting over a girlfriend. The older boy was a bit of a bully, the younger one was smaller, and had been drinking. It was the younger one who pulled the gun, a Glock .45, and after a bit more scuffle, shot the older one in the head -- clearly a homicide, since the older boy hadn't laid a hand on him or threatened to do so. I helped catch the shooter, but it turns out his gun had jammed. No one knows who he tried to shoot the second time.

    Some would say the event only proves that more people should have been armed to stop him. But, having been there, I'm convinced more people would have died if someone else pulled another gun. Again, it was his family's gun, bought for self-defense.

    Certainly both events helped open my eyes to the violence that widespread gun availability brings to our society. These weren't the only violent gun-related events in my young life, but they were the worst for me personally.

  3. I believe that if a child is old enough and responsible enough to be left home alone, they should be taught proper gun safety and responsibility and have access to firearms in the home.

    If your child isn't responsible enough to be left home with gasoline, matches, power tools, poisonous chemicals, and a set of keys to the family pickup truck (any of which they could cause them or someone else severe physical injury or death), they don't need to be left home alone with firearms, either.

    But if there ARE firearms in the home, any children left alone MUST be taught proper handling and use your best judgement to make sure they are not going to be "playing" with them in your absence.

    Kids are curious, and if you have guns in your house at all, they are going to know where they are and even if locked, figure out where the key is. Since my kids were 9 and 10, I have alleviated that curiosity by allowing them full supervised access to my firearms when I am home. If they want to see any of the guns, I started by completely unloading it myself and double checking it, and then allowing them to handle the firearm. I used this as an opportunity to teach proper gun handling - keep control of the muzzle at all times. Keep your finger off the trigger. Pretend the gun is ALWAYS loaded unless you have checked it yourself, and I have shown them how to check. If they want to dry fire it, I have taught them to make sure they check it themselves, and STILL imagine "what if the gun were loaded" and understand what's on the other side of that wall or door if it were to go off.

    Recently, now that the kids are much older (13 and 14) and I have taken them shooting many times, I hand them the holstered firearm, let them unload it themselves and stay with them to closely monitor and watch to make sure they're handling it properly.

    I understand there are risks involved with firearms in the home, and I believe I have taken adequate measures to manage those risks. I have a close relationship with my kids so that I know and understand their level of responsibility and am perfectly comfortable with them having access to the firearms in case of emergency. Rather than avoid the issue by locking them up and/or making it a secret, I have educated my kids from a young age to understand the danger of mis-used firearms and I have taken what I believe are adequate steps to manage those risks.


  4. Orygunner:

    You have a great deal of trust that your kids are behaving responsibly and obeying their training. So, too, did the parents of my young friend who committed suicide (though I doubt they were as thorough in their training as you are). Have you asked them if they ever accessed the guns without your supervision?

    What did you do before your kids were 9 & 10 to prevent tragedy?

    How do you control for your kids' friends or other relative's kids when they come over?

  5. I like that Orygunner qualified it with "when the kids are old enough to be home alone." For me that eliminates the worst years when curiosity is at it's peak. Still I go for Baldr's solution, no guns at home and use other security measures against the thieves and rapists.

  6. I think you forgot the Eddie the Eagle safety program and the Boy Scouts also have a great firearm safety program. Training and safety are key and it needs to start as early as possible which is why we need to get Eddie back out to the public schools. We also need to get children into the shooting sports, archery, hunting and, positive outdoor activities that provide an outlet for teenagers and above all training. Orygunner is right(as usual) "safeing" the children is more effective and keeps the firearms available for home and personal defense.

  7. Before then the firearms were locked in a gun cabinet out in the garage (where the kids were not allowed to play), unloaded,and separate from the ammunition, and the only set of keys were hidden extremely well. It was when I decided to start carrying a gun for self defense about 3 years ago (I guess the kids were 10 & 11, boy how time flies), and realized I had to have a gun IN the house to do that I started researching how to manage that risk. I found this very interesting website where I got the idea of handling their natural curiosity by pretty much eliminating it:

    My son, actually, just 2 nights ago happened to be in our room and out of the blue, asked "hey, can I look at the guns?" I got out the lock box and supervised him while he looked at the handguns for about 2-3 minutes, then he was done and I locked them back up and put them away.

    To protect from visitors, currently, all the firearms are stored in my bedroom and none of our kids' friends are allowed in our room. The handguns are in a lock box which I have one key, and another key is hidden nearby (but the kids know where it is). The kids also understand they are not to discuss that we have firearms or where they are stored with any of their friends or anybody else. Any gun questions from anyone (or their parents) are to be deferred to me or my wife.

    I have asked the kids if they've handled the firearms without our supervision, and I trust their answer. I also trust their answer because I have a small hidden "tell" on the lock box to know if it's been opened.

    Suicide is a difficult issue. I believe that if someone REALLY wants to do themselves in, they're going to find a way, so it's a fool's game to try and prevent suicide by trying to prevent the tools or methods they would use, you have to prevent suicide by working with the PERSON to help resolve the problems in their life that are causing the depression. Consider that when someone commits suicide with a firearm, they aren't breaking any of the 4 safety rules...


  8. Somewhat related question:

    Do you feel that your beliefs regarding "safe storage" should be law? If so, should the law just apply to those who have children, or to everyone?

  9. Good thing you live in the tame part of the NW!

    We know some families that make firearms available to minors because they legitimately have a wild animal threat. If there are wolves dragging off family pets and treeing joggers literally in your back yard, then keep a shotgun handy. If there are bears that have acquired a habit for breaking into residences and acting aggressively, then keep a shotgun handy. What about rural residences in areas with high rape rates and other violent crimes where the State Troopers are literally hours or days away? On the less threatening end of the spectrum, we know at least one family where the child is allowed to have their .22 single shot and is tasked with shooting foxes in the henhouse.

    Not every kid is mature enough to handle a firearm. It is an individual judgment call that requires the responsible adult parents to carefully consider the totality of circumstances, including the actual threat, the maturity of the child, and the balance between risks and possible benefits.

    As a default, I would advise people to lock up their firearms (or otherwise render them safe--removing bolts, etc) and keep that combo or key secure unless they are 100% certain they can trust their minor children and any other visitor that might come to the house. There are ways to keep firearms in the house but secured from kid; you'd hate this, but open carry around the house is just about the only way to keep a firearm both accessible and guaranteed secured from unauthorized hands. But there are times when it does make sense and may be appropriate to allow minors to have access, and the law should recognize that.

    Then again, your stated goal is to prevent firearms ownership and if possible bring the full force of the law down on gun owners (especially from the poor, historically oppressed minorities, single women, and so on--keep it classy!), and my goal is to reduce unnecessary death and suffering, so we may be at loggerheads here.

    Chris from AK

  10. Chris, those instances have happened, but are extremely rare. I argue that the rate of deaths caused by firearms around children is a greater risk than those unlikely scenarios about bears and wolves. I feel your statement about that is more like fearmongering than fact, particularly the part about State Troopers being days away! You'd have to live in a cabin in roadless wilderness for that to be true.

    I agree with you that maturity is important, but you can't control for their friends, and accidents are more likely in the hands of children, who are less likely to be careful due to the nature of children everywhere. Carrying your gun around at all times inside the house seems a bit much.

    I don't know where you get the bit about my stated goal being "to prevent firearms ownership and if possible bring the full force of the law down on gun owners (especially from the poor, historically oppressed minorities, single women, and so on--keep it classy!)" That's ridiculous, and you're trying to smear me. I have never said such a thing. I do agree that there should be more limits on who can purchase guns and what kinds for the sake of public safety, but I have never said I was against gun ownership for all people.

  11. @Heather: I'm a strong proponent for Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws. Safe storage should be a must if children are present. But CAP laws have built-in exceptions to make them reasonable, and do not apply to home gun owners when children aren't present.

    I advocate for safe storage of guns in all cases, even without children present, but currently I'll be happy if we can just get CAP laws in place.

  12. CAP laws create a victimless crime where nobody has been injured. There are already laws against child endangerment, how is making it MORE illegal really going to help?

    How about if instead of criminalizing gun owners we work on better educating them instead to help reduce accidents? Not only the parents, but the children as well? Mandatory education (Stop, Don't Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult) in public schools starting at the Elementary school level would be a great start.

    CAP laws override my judgement as a parent by forcing someone else's OPINION of "safe storage" of firearms onto me and my family. Such laws fail to take into account any specific factors such as location, training, responsibility level, or needs. In trying to protect the lowest common denominator, they limit the rights and prevent individuals from using their own judgement.

    I will say this: Sure, it may actually save some lives (and it may just as well cost some, too), but aren't there other ways to achieve the same effect (reducing accidents) without infringing on our liberties?


  13. @Orygunner: I support a combination of early childhood education as you mention (the "Speak Up!" program does this) AND CAP laws.

    Are CAP laws overriding your judgement as a parent? Maybe, but their previsions tend to match what responsible gun owners do already. But if a few people are inconvenienced for the sake of the greater good, I am willing to support it. You could make the same argument for other child-protective laws, such as the mandatory use of car seats, child helmets for bikes and motorcycles, and child labor laws.

    More than 40% of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked (Schuster, p. 590). One fourth of homes with children and guns have a loaded firearm, and between 6% and 14% of firearm owning households with a child under 18 have an unlocked and loaded firearm (Johnson, 2004). Those percentages are too high, in my opinion.

    As to your suggestion that CAP laws "may just as well cost some [lives], too," there's no evidence of this that I have ever seen. But there is certainly evidence that they have worked to save lives, which is why 28 states have such laws.

    Since this topic has been a hot one lately here, my next post will be about a good article about Vermont's proposal to introduce CAP laws.

  14. Oops. Sources for my last post (I know you'll ask, Orygunner):

    Johnson, Renee M., MPH, Tamera Coyne-Beasley, MD, MPH, and Carol W. Runyan, PhD. “Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27 (2004): 173-82

    Schuster, Mark A., Franke, Todd M., Bastian, Amy M., Sor, Sinaroth, Halfon, Neal. "Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes With Children," American Journal of Public Health 90(4) (April 2000):588-594

  15. "Chris, those instances have happened, but are extremely rare. I argue that the rate of deaths caused by firearms around children is a greater risk than those unlikely scenarios about bears and wolves. I feel your statement about that is more like fearmongering than fact, particularly the part about State Troopers being days away! You'd have to live in a cabin in roadless wilderness for that to be true."

    Clearly you've never been to Alaska. Just because what is described isn't the norm where you live, doesn't mean it's not the norm elsewhere.

    Just another reason that "one size fits all" federal laws become ridiculous.

  16. Ironically, being a father and a husband brought on the sense of obligation to protect my family. While a bachelor, and before having my children I didn't have the same need to defend my own.

    Given my motives, why would you doubt I wouldn't be considering the safety of those I'm concerned with protecting?

    It's extremely depressing to think that any parent wouldn't do the absolute most to protect their children, and we need government regulation to compensate for failed parenting.

  17. @Baldr: A primary example of CAP laws being directly responsible for 2 deaths:

    There's no telling how many other people have died or become victims of other violent crime because laws required them to keep their firearms locked and unloaded, because such things are hard to count.

    I will admit that this type of law may actually save more lives than it costs, but lives aren't the only thing to measure. What about the cost to our liberty, and the punishment by the law of innocent people guilty of nothing more than using their own judgement in violation of the law?

    I do not think the "greater good" is EVER a reason to infringe on our rights. Such a "nanny state" mentality is wrong in my opinion by depriving a free people of their essential liberties.

    The Declaration of Independence gives a clear, simple description of the purpose of government - The job of government is to protect our individual, unalienable rights by ensuring justice for those whose rights are harmed by punishing those that infringe upon the rights of others. Not to protect us from ourselves or ensure the "common good" at the price of our liberties. I doubt you will find ANY writings or speeches of ANY of the founding fathers that supports such an inherently flawed concept, and in fact will find many quotes to the contrary:

    "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" - Benjamin Franklin.

    If you want a nanny state to protect us from ourselves, I wish you and your like-minded comrades would go find some other country that doesn't care about individual rights to ruin, instead of continuing to try and gain public support in THIS country for your twisted ideas of what constitutes the "public good."

    Some of us would rather live in the animated contest of freedom with all it's inherent chaos and protected liberties than a coddled life subject to overly-restrictive laws that make innocent people into criminals for victimless crimes like CAP laws do.

    Some like yourself, may be willing to give up their liberty for a little perceived safety. I, and many others, are not.


  18. Orygunner, the scenario in that link is extremely rare, and the statistics that Lott quotes are inaccurate and misleading. For instance, one can find that the rate of death for children 10 and under are at least four times higher than his statement (

    But I think the gist of your last comment really gets at the bottom line of the divide between those who are very pro-gun, like yourself, and those who advocated against gun violence, like myself.

    That "bottom line" is the balance between public safety and what you call liberty. I think Patrick Henry's famous quote, "Give me liberty or give me death!" would apply here very nicely. People die so you can have a sense of liberty. I also argue that Franklin's quote doesn't apply, as the safety these CAP laws provide have not been temporary, but long-lasting.

    But this isn't the world of 1776. Our country is far more complex than it was 235 years ago. And the Founding Fathers, in all their wisdom, could never have foreseen the level of carnage playing out in our homes and streets. So let's not live in the past.

    What you snidely call a "nanny state" is what I call responsibility to the welfare of the people. The safety these laws provide isn't a perception, it is a fact (whether you choose to accept the statistics or not).

    I have had the blood of your "animated contest of freedom with its inherent chaos and protected liberties" literally smeared on my hands, and I've felt the tears and coffins it has produced as my friends died from gunfire.

  19. Your friends didn't die because of a gun. They died because of a PERSON abusing their right to keep and bear arms. I didn't kill them, and none of the other 80 million responsible gun owners killed them. I don't know any of the details of the deaths you are referring to, but whether they took their own life or were murdered by another, every bit of logic and reasoning in the world shows that the tool isn't responsible - the choice of a human being is.

    I can understand wanting to eliminate "gun violence." I recognize that it occurs. I can also see past the tool you feel is responsible, and understand that we must address the real causes behind the bloodshed to make any real difference.

    I don't want your idea of public safety acquired by criminalizing good people. I don't want your VERY slight (if any) improvement to the "common good" at the expense of our individual liberties.

    How is it that none of your "facts" are consistent? That when the number of firearms in any society go up or down that the numbers don't follow as a result? Why can I provide more COUNTER-examples than your "proof" that gun control works?

    I believe the facts you show are the truth, but either limited in scope by the researchers to only show what they WANT to show, cherry picked to only show data that suits their agenda, or they disregard any possible GOOD uses of firearms because it overrides the "bad" uses that they're trying to demonstrate.

    You've got the completely wrong context of Patrick Henry's quote - He was saying that if he could not live as a free man, he would rather die, not referring to people that died for our "sense" of liberty. Here is another quote of his:

    "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel." - Patrick Henry

    I suspect that the founding fathers would be astounded at the changes in our society. I believe they would mostly be abhorred at the level of control and infringements on our freedom that the government has taken from the people in 235 years. How much of that overbearing control has CONTRIBUTED to our current state of "carnage"? Prohibition of alcohol in the 20's spawned an increase in violent crime as organized crime took over the distribution of alcohol. The same thing happened in the 1960's with the beginning of the "war on drugs" as street gangs and violent criminals took over the drug trade.

    The old west with all it's rugged frontier and chaos was a more peaceful and safer place than today's cities! Just because our technologies have advanced beyond the founder's wildest dreams does not mean we restrict our basic fundamental liberties. We do not restrict free speech and press because of the wildly uncontrollable internet and television and radio! We do not restrict access to cameras because of child pornography, or prohibit exercise of free speech because some people abuse it to incite others to kill!

    You may not recognize the value of our individual liberties and will gladly trade the rights you don't care to exercise for your slight (if any) safety. I care enough about ALL of our rights to fight to protect ALL of them, for everyone.

    "Tyrants are but the spawn of ignorance, begotten by the slaves they trample on." - William Lloyd Garrison

    It's no surprise that gun control is a tool of tyrants, and that majority support for gun control is only made possible through ignorance. I aim to educate as many people as I can about the WHOLE truth. ALL the facts. Not just the limited facts you choose to share.

    It is possible to hate "gun violence" and do something effective about it, while still respecting liberty and the rights of others. Why can't you do both?


  20. "Your friends didn't die because of a gun. They died because of a PERSON abusing their right to keep and bear arms."

    Actually, Orygunner, in the cases I mentioned from my past, no one abused their right. Neither my friend who committed suicide nor the teen who killed the other had a legal right to bear those arms, as they were too young. I don't know how their parents stored the weapons (clearly not well enough), but the parents had not abused their rights, either, according to the laws of the state I was in at the time (Arkansas), which did not have CAP laws (and doesn't, still, from what I know).

    I agree that the "choice of a human being" is responsible for child access to guns. CAP laws insure that parents make the right choices regarding storage of those firearms.

  21. @Baldr: I think you're confusing rights with laws.

    Our unalienable rights exist independent of any government or its laws. The government does not create or grant these rights to the people, therefore it cannot take them away, only make them illegal to exercise.

    So what about the rights of children? Their rights are supposed to be tempered, guided and even limited by their parents until whenever they are able to be responsible for themselves. The right to keep and bear arms DID exist for the youths you mentioned, independent of the law, and they abused that right.

    Actually, for the two instances you mentioned, were long guns or handguns used? Did the parents allow access to the guns or did they belong to the shooters?

    As far as CAP laws, they don't ensure that parents will follow them any more than laws against murder ensure people won't kill each other. The difference is that CAP laws turn people into criminals when there's no harm and no victim.

    Instead of putting MORE laws on the books, why not put more effort into not just the ASK campaign, but also educating the children? You can save lives without criminalizing innocent people.


  22. To answer your specific question, Orygunner, in the two instances I mentioned, they were both handguns, which belonged to their parents and were not intended to be accessed by the kids.

  23. Orygunner, regarding the discussion about rights vs. laws vs. privileges, I'm going to have to take a raincheck on that debate. Those get pretty long, and is a topic for a different posting.

    In the meantime, here's a recent post by Laci on the topic:

  24. @Baldr, I also forgot to ask if it took place in Oregon or not. Oregon prohibits lawful possession of a handgun by a minor (under 18) unless it is "Temporarily for hunting, target practice or any other lawful purpose..." (ORS 166.250).

    I did happen across Laci's post, and you're right - the discussion of rights vs. privileges and laws is a lengthy one and I'm not sure if it's integral to the discussion. I think I may write my own blog entry on the subject as some of the things Laci wrote definitely deserve some further research.

    So back to the subject, how do you justify a law that turns innocent people into criminals when nobody has been harmed? Shouldn't we be doing more things OURSELVES to educate the public before creating more victimless crimes?


  25. Current Portland ordinance does NOT state how to store firearms. It simply states that if a minor gains access to a gun without gaining permission first (to hunt with parents for example) then the gun owner is criminally liable unless the gun was locked up, the premises were broken into or the gun was being used by the minor in self defense. So basically, a gun owner can keep a gun anywhere but must take responsibility if a minor accesses the gun without permission.

    The actual ordinance goes into more detail.

    It's all about the gun owners taking responsibility.