FFFFirearms and Children

No. 37; Updated April 2020

Parents, professionals and many others are concerned about the large numbers of children and adolescents killed by firearms. In order to prevent further deaths, it is important to remember the following:

  1. We can't gun-proof our children and adolescents. Children are playful and active. Adolescents are curious and impulsive. Such healthy traits when mixed with guns can cause death.
  2. The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home. If guns are kept in the home, there will always be danger.

The following actions are crucial to lessen the dangers:

  • Store all firearms unloaded and uncocked in a securely locked container. Only the parents should know where the container is located
  • Store the guns and ammunition in separate locked locations
  • For a revolver, place a padlock around the top strap of the weapon to prevent the cylinder from closing, or use a trigger lock; for a pistol, use a trigger lock
  • When handling or cleaning a gun, never leave it unattended, even for a moment; it should be in your view at all times

Even if parents don't own a gun, they should check with parents at other places where their children play, to make sure safety precautions are followed. Research shows that many accidental shootings occur in the homes of friends and relatives. The tragedies take place most often when children are left unsupervised.

When youngsters use alcohol and also have a gun available, the risk for violence rapidly increases. Research reveals that youth suicide victims who used firearms were about five times more likely to have been drinking than those who used other means. In gun-associated murders among family members, almost 90% of the offenders and victims had used alcohol or drugs before the killings.

The average American child witnesses many acts of violence each day on TV, in movies, and through computer games. Most involve firearms. Children often imitate what they see, and are more aggressive after extensive viewing of violence on TV, in movies and videos, and/or playing violent video games. Parents should help protect their children from the effects of gun violence portrayed in the media. For example, they can watch TV, movies, and videos with children; restrict violent video games; limit TV; and disapprove of the violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to resolve a problem.

Children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral problems may be more likely than other children to use guns against themselves. Parents who are concerned that their child is too aggressive or might have an emotional disorder may wish to seek an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional.

If you find Facts for Families© helpful and would like to make good mental health a reality, consider donating to the Campaign for America’s Kids. Your support will help us continue to produce and distribute Facts for Families, as well as other vital mental health information, free of charge.

You may also mail in your contribution. Please make checks payable to the AACAP and send to Campaign for America’s Kids, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, DC 20090.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 10,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Facts for Families© information sheets are developed, owned and distributed by AACAP. Hard copies of Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale or profit. All Facts can be viewed and printed from the AACAP website (www.aacap.org). Facts sheets may not be reproduced, duplicated or posted on any other website without written consent from AACAP. Organizations are permitted to create links to AACAP's website and specific Facts sheets. For all questions please contact the AACAP Communications Manager, ext. 154.

If you need immediate assistance, please dial 911.

Copyright © 2022 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.