Kids & Guns: Balancing Readiness and Safety in the Home

by Vern Evans
Will Dabbs MD Photo

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Don’t let concerns of violence overshadow the need for creating a truly safe environment in your home.

Anyone who lives or works around firearms should strive to remain just a little bit paranoid about gun safety. The Irish attorney John Philpot Curran originated the quote, “The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance” in 1790. While Curran was then referencing the election of the Lord-Mayor of London, this timeless truism applies to firearms in the Information Age as well.

It has been said that the American system of justice is the second worst system of justice in the world. It is simply that everybody else ties for first. Our legal system is indeed an inexact science, but it strives to assign liability in cases of injury or death for the advertised purpose of making the world safer. When it comes to firearms, however, there is more to the equation than court costs and legal jeopardy.

War Story

It was just before 9 p.m. on a Friday night in the pediatric ER at the Level 1 trauma center where I worked. It had been a busy shift, but nothing horrible had happened just yet. Perhaps my next challenge would be a skin rash, an ear infection or something similarly recreational.

A quick glance at the chart told me the patient was a 4-year-old with a gunshot wound to the face. My blood ran cold, but the kid was in an exam room, not the trauma bay. That meant it could only be but so bad.

Still, I pushed into the room with some trepidation. The kid was one of those adorable little blonde-headed scamps who wore glasses. He was happily occupied with a toy he’d brought from home. Mom was sitting quietly in the chair alongside him, but she didn’t look right. She wouldn’t meet my gaze.

I introduced myself and plopped down on the stool. I quickly made the kid a balloon out of a surgical glove and turned it into a chicken with a Sharpie marker I carried for that very purpose. Distracting him with the makeshift balloon gave me a chance to study the young man. He looked perfectly normal save for a long red crease tracking up the left side of his face. His glasses seemed a bit small and shopworn. They were apparently his spares. I turned my attention to his mother. She struggled to speak.

The boy’s mom was a cop, and she had been at home visiting with a friend. Her son had disappeared into her bedroom along with the friend’s son of comparable age in pursuit of mischief. Little boys are the agents of chaos. Anyone who believes otherwise has clearly never been the parent of one.

Mom could hear the kids jumping on her bed, but this infraction was a household misdemeanor at worst. She made a mental note to castigate them later. Then the gun went off.

The weapon was a heavy Smith & Wesson Model 66 .357 Magnum revolver. Mom kept it in her bedside table for home defense and personal protection. At some point her son had been digging around in the furniture looking for whatever he could get into. He found the gun and crawled onto the bed with it.

As the two little friends bounced happily, the kid got his thumb inside the trigger guard. The muzzle was pointed upward when the vagaries of physics caused it to fire. The heavy 158-grain hollowpoint bullet tracked across his face, pulverized his little glasses and imbedded itself harmlessly in the ceiling. That’s when the screaming started.

The kid was thankfully fine. Mom, however, would never be right again. Even half an hour after the incident, she still could not carry on a coherent conversation. Of course, put yourself in this woman’s position and it’s easy to see. She had just seen her entire life—and her child’s—as she knew it pass before her eyes. And she was one of the lucky ones.

If there are kids or irresponsible adults in your world all the weapons and ammunition must be reliably secured. Will Dabbs MD Photo

Focus on What’s Important

Anyone who has ever bought a firearm, typically enjoys shooting—even if they don’t get out as often as they’d like to do it. While many of us shoot recreationally or for competition, personal defense is a fundamental reason millions of Americans own a firearm. Maintaining one for personal protection is a huge responsibility.

A remarkable amount of engineering know-how is imbedded within your typical handgun. Modern defensive ammunition seems to incorporate as much technology and scientific knowledge of physics as is built into the space shuttle. However, despite the efficiency and capability of these components when used together to stop a threat, the point in using a firearm at such time is ultimately not to take human life. The goal is really to dissuade bad behavior in a timely fashion. The tragic endings are simply the unfortunate result when someone bent on doing harm, refuses to heed these forces aligned against them.

The rub is that once a gun is used there is no taking that bullet back. It behooves us all to approach the subject of defensive firearms soberly, particularly when you add kids in your home or in your car to the mix. How you manage firearms in a household with children is potentially the most important thing you will ever do.

My Ballistic Philosophy

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6

When my kids were young, I owned enough military ordnance to outfit a SWAT team. Our little town was adjacent to the crime-ridden city where I worked, and occasionally some of that chaos spilled over into our neighborhood. However, when it came right down to it, I would much rather find myself defenseless, than see one of my kids or their friends needlessly hurt because of any carelessness in properly locking away and storing my guns and ammunition.

As a result, the weapons and ammo were all stored separately in locked containers. Should a defensive need arise, I kept one handgun accessible in a quick-access lockbox high on a bedroom shelf, but even that was stored with the magazine removed. I practiced accessing the weapon and making it hot in the dark. The extra time it took me to arm myself was virtually negligible. It took mere seconds. And that was the price I was willing to pay for being a dad.

Humans are inexorably drawn to stuff they aren’t supposed to have. That axiom is as old as the Garden of Eden. One of my first missions was to excise the mystique from the gun collection.

My homeschooled kids could play with the guns anytime they wished…on my terms. That meant that I was always present, the weapons had been thoroughly cleared and there was no ammunition anywhere nearby. By their seventh birthdays my children could field strip and reassemble a Kalashnikov rifle blindfolded.

But we also had a series of gun rules in the house. Anyone seeing a weapon unsecured was to immediately stop what they were doing, seek out a parent and report it. Every now and then I would clear a handgun and leave it on the dinner table as a test. Inevitably, the first child passing by would track me down with a helpful, “Dad, there’s a gun on the table.”

That usually earned them a hug and a bowl of ice cream. Your mileage may vary, but my kids are all healthy, productive, tax-paying adults today.

Balancing Safety and Risk

Life is a series of compromises. Establishing residence in a surplus bank vault and taking your food through a slot is an undeniably safe way to live. However, the resulting quality of life would not be the best. By contrast, homesteading astride an active volcano, while admittedly exciting, would perhaps not be conducive to a long fruitful retirement. The happy medium is somewhere in between. So, it is with firearms in America.

If you carry a handgun, either with a concealed carry permit or constitutionally, there was an undeniable mystique associated with the first time you went out in public armed. Don’t deny it. We’ve all been there. In my case on that first trip to Wal-Mart, I was expressly concerned that somebody would notice the telltale bulge and freak out about my defensive handgun. That was three decades ago. Now I could care less. Strapping on my pistol is no longer unlike slipping into a fresh pair of boxers. However, there is great danger to be found with that familiarity.

A friend once invited me to his SUV to check out his new defensive handgun. Gun guys are ever admiring each other’s favorite carry weapons, and I looked forward to a spirited discussion. This man had only recently received his concealed carry permit. Carry life was all new and exciting to him.

He crawled into the driver’s seat, and I took shotgun. Tossing aside the scrap of cloth he used to conceal the gun from prying eyes, he retrieved his pistol from between the driver’s seat and center console. I pointed the Smith & Wesson M&P in a safe direction, removed the magazine and jacked the slide, retrieving the ejected 9mm hollowpoint round that had been in the chamber. I glanced back to see the matching car seats for the man’s two pre-school children. The fact that his hot pistol had been riding unsecured in a vehicle alongside his kids made my skin crawl.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that the world is dirty with homicidal psychopaths. After all, that’s pretty much the pervasive theme of most mainstream news sources. However, we always need to view the world through a realistic lens and balance our need for self-protection against the relative risk of catastrophe. The odds of his kids stumbling upon that firearm unexpectedly and possibly hurting themselves was far more likely than his need to stop a would-be carjacker from snatching him from the car. Consider all of the dangers you and your family face and balance your need for protection with your true need for security.

Ultimate Responsibility

The cop mom in the ER at the beginning of this story took her son home later that evening. Hers was a happy ending. Sadly, I have another dear friend whose similar situation didn’t end so well. Gun ownership represents arguably the apex of civic responsibilities. Not unlike driving, voting, parenting or sex, undertaking these practices responsibly must be balanced against the ultimate benefit.

I carry a gun whenever I’m not asleep or in the shower. Standing next to me is invariably the safest place in a crowd. However, we must always weigh security against relative risk. The possibility of a child or irresponsible adult gaining access to your firearm has got to be zero. We Americans enjoy legitimately unprecedented liberty. Managing our guns responsibly and safely is the price of that freedom.

 

(Story courtesy of U.S. LawShield)

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