Guns + Kids = Potential Tragedy

Summertime is upon us, the season when out-of-school kids are frequently left alone in the house. Here’s a question for all parents and grandparents out there: Do you have guns in your home?

According to a new report from the Children’s National Hospital, 20,000 American children — yes, 20,000 — will be rushed to the emergency room this year with a gunshot wound. In 2015, more than 4,500 youngsters under age 21 died by firearm. Many were injured or killed as a result of in-home accidents (more common among younger children), but suicides and homicides were also listed as causes of death, primarily in older youths.

The authors of the study call it “a pediatric public health crisis.”

Like Ralphie in the Movies, A Kid Could Put Their Eye Out – or Worse – Photo: Movie Promotion Poster

The study also found that more than 44 percent of American homes have at least one gun, and that many parents (39 percent) are in a state of denial thinking their children don’t know where the weapon is kept. But kids often know the hiding place; in fact, 22 percent of parents wrongly think their kids have never handled the gun in their home.

This is not to condemn gun owners reading this. You’ve got a constitutional right to own a gun — or multiple guns. No judgments here, but, as a parent, those were pretty eye-opening statistics.

ABC’s “20/20” program ran an upsetting special on kids and guns a few years ago. They put a group of children ages 4 to 10 in a playroom — with the parents’ permission — where an unloaded handgun was strategically placed. All the children got a talk from a policeman and were shown a popular National Rife Association kids video that teaches them to never touch a gun — ever — and instead to back away, leave the area and find an adult. When left alone in the playroom, guess what happened. Only one girl out of 14 disobeyed, but more than half the boys touched the gun; some also picked it up, pointed it at other children, pulled the trigger and, most chillingly, looked down the barrel and pulled the trigger.

The program featured Dr. Marjorie Sanfilippo, an expert in pediatric psychology and gun safety. Her words stayed with me.

We can sit kids down and ask them to repeat the instructions, she said, “but you can’t educate curiosity out of a child.” Kids often play cops-and-robbers-type games and pretend to fall dead, Sanfilippo said, and at that age they don’t understand what death really means.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports free trigger safety locks as the best way to curb childhood injuries and death. It urges pediatricians to counsel families not to have a false sense of security about the gun in their home, especially if their child has a mood disorder or abuses substances. AAP also wants its member doctors to encourage parents to ask about whether guns are present in the homes where their children go to visit.

Gun experts believe firearm safety education is the key, along with safe storage of weapons in a sturdy lockbox or gun safe. It was reported in 2015 that there are now more civilian-owned guns in the United States than there are people, and we are a nation of 325 million. So, teaching gun safety seems like a logical thing to stress.

I’ve always wondered what happened to the 9-year-old girl whose parents took her to an Arizona gun range for a lesson on how to shoot an Uzi. I’m sure they figured this family outing to teach their child gun safety was a responsible thing to do. But in the end, she was not able to control the gun’s recoil, and she accidentally shot her instructor in the head and killed him.

Gun aficionados later agreed on two points: Children should not handle a submachine gun; they should learn on a single-shot handgun first. And the instructor (a military veteran) was standing in the wrong place as he assisted the girl.

When you consider that 20 kids are hospitalized with gunshot injuries every single day in this country, it’s clear something needs fixing. And it’s got to be more than just telling your child to never touch a gun.

I cannot erase that “20/20” experiment from my mind. Those little kids just couldn’t keep their hands off the forbidden object. It is easy to understand how an accidental shooting could happen.

This summer, let’s all resolve to have the safety talk with the children in our lives and order those gun locks you’ve been meaning to get. And don’t be afraid to ask the parents of children’s playmates whether they have guns in the house. We can’t get rid of millions of guns, but we can try better to protect our kids.



  1. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Creators Syndicate Reader Benebetha writes:

    I grew up on a farm and the gun case was always locked and the guns inside the case were unloaded. My father kept the bullets locked in the safe and only he and my mother had the combination. But…there was one loaded gun. We kids all knew where it was and why it was there, just in case our safety was in danger. It was nailed on a wall above a very large door in the foyer. It was never touched. Now you have gang bangers locked and loaded and they are not careful. Far too many children think it’s a toy and blow off the head of a brother or sister.

  2. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Joel Widman writes:

    I am a hand gun owner and gun enthusiast and I don’t believe there is any way you can safely keep a hand gun in the home for self defense with kids around. In order to be effective for self defense purposes, the gun must be immediately accessible, not in a safe,or a cookie jar or some other inane hiding place but right where you can get to it.. If you can immediately access the gun, you can bet your kids can as well and you can teach them not to touch until hell freezes over but kids do not have fully formed brains. The only safe way to manage the situation is to carry the gun on your person at all times during the day and not too many people want to live with a gun on their hip. Then there is the problem of the real or imagined midnight intruder. How many people who are woken up by a noise in the middle of the night can do an accurate threat assessment and make sure that it is a burglar and not their kid banging around in the middle of the night or coming home late from a party. My kids are long out of the house and it’s just me and my wife so if I hear a noise at night and she’s next to me I have a pretty high level of confidence that it’s someone who shouldn’t be in my house. With kids around that level of confidence doesn’t exist.

  3. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Susan Ferrand writes:

    Dear Diane,

    I just opened my Albuquerque Journal and was tasting my first cup of coffees, when your headlne on page A7 caught my eye. My, my, this sound familiar!!! In l993, I wrote a K-8 curriculum for the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at UNM. It was built around the idea that, just as yu propose in your article, we can reach children and give them the tools to make wise decisions in regard to guns they might find.

    I designed the curriculum using actual firearm incidents in New Mexico. Of course I changed names and places, but the curriculum resonates with reality and real-life, New Mexico oriented accidents or potential accidents. There is no reference to anti gun propaganda. It is all about the sorts of kids you mentioned in the 20/20 experiment. Kids who, even with parental instruction, will be kids!

    In 2013, I contacted Leslie Linthicum about this curriculum and she came to our home and interviewed me. There was even a photo in the Journal. We agreed that the time was right to try to reintroduce this here in Albuquerque where the curriculum had been tested and used in l993. Her article suggested that someone in the community might be willing to use this well developed instructional material, but alas, no one stepped up and the idea did not fly. This is so sad based on the fact that, right here in Albuquerque, we have the ability to help make kids safer around guns, just as we did in l993.

    We have copies of the curriculum here and you would be welcome to try again.

  4. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Noozhawk Reader Ken Westcott from the University of Florida writes:

    Another scare article. How many people do you know who have “submachine” guns ? You can’t six stupid and this is a ploy by the left to register and confiscate firearms .

    • Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      DD replies to Ken Westcott:

      Oh my gosh. Mr. Westcott, did you even read this column? What you assert here is nonsense. I know the motivation because I wrote this column and I am neither “left” or buying your premise that this is all about “submachine guns.” This column is about the propensity of children to play with guns even after they have been repeatedly told not to. This column is about gun SAFETY not gun confiscation.

  5. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Facebook Friend Joya Colucci Lord writes:

    Great article, Diane. When I lived in South Dakota, EVERYONE had a gun and all of the kids learned to shoot. Nevertheless, when the kids were home alone, the gun cases were kept locked. Because, as you said, you can’t educate curiosity out of children. And even more than that, you can never underestimate the bad judgment of children in groups. Thanks for letting people know how to be responsible without taking away their Second Amendment rights.

  6. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Linked In Friend Jeanne Tutt writes:

    One of my friends shot another friend in 7th grade showing him his dad’s gun not realizing it was loaded. Took six ft of his intestines but he is very happily married today with kids etc. They know not only where you keep the gun but most likely where you keep those bullets separately.

  7. Diane Dimond on June 12, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Twitter Pal Kat Verda@KatVerdaDesign writes:

    Even if U have them properly locked up, they WILL find the key or figure out the combination. They have nothing but time. #FriendBuried14yo

  8. Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Scott Hansen writes:

    Swimming pools + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Bathtubs + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Cars + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Prescription drugs + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Sharp objects + kids = a potential tragedy.
    The stove + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Your alcohol cabinet + kids = a potential tragedy.
    Trees + kids = a potential tragedy.

    I could go on all day….

    • Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:49 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      By this train of thought we should do nothing to remind parents with firearms in the house to secure their weapons? Hmmmm. I just can’t agree that a tree in the yard or the car parked in the garage poses as great a risk as an unsecured gun in the home.

  9. Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Nathan Slocombe writes:

    Diane Dimond, Don’t you mean this column is about gun CONTROL? Gun safety, the real kind, includes hands on experience with firearms.

    • Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:51 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      Nathan Slocombe, Nope. It obviously is NOT about gun control. It clearly re-states everyone’s right to have a gun – or multiple guns if they want. Sure you didn’t just scan the column instead of actually reading it?

  10. Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Serge Shirokov writes:

    Diane Dimond That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

    1. The vast majority of your “kids” are gang members getting shot by other gang members. No “safety” issues involved.
    2. The accidental injury rate for firearms is less than 1% of that for cars or swimming pools. Quite frankly, firearms are some of the safest things in your house. (Criminals using firearms does not make firearms unsafe any more than terrorists using fertilizer makes fertilizer unsafe.)
    3. If your kids keep doing things you tell them not to, that’s your failure as a parrent for not enforcing your rules properly. HINT: A nice stiff leather belt can be had on Amazon for ~$20.

    • Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      Serge Shirokov, You are incorrect. The “vast majority of ‘kids'” being shot are NOT gang members….they are toddlers and youngsters in the single digit age group. And I’d really be interested to know the source for your comment that ” injury rate for firearms is less than 1% of that for cars or swimming pools.” Can you please provide a link? I am truly interested. BTW, the bottom line to this column was simply – if you have a gun in the house with kids be sure to keep it secure. Who could argue that that is not a good idea?

  11. Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Scott Hansen writes:

    I was 5 when my father taught me gun safety. He taught me to treat all guns like they were loaded, to never point them at anything that I didn’t want to destroy, to keep my finger off the trigger at all times until I was ready to shoot, and to recognize what was behind the target. 31 years later and no one in the household has ever had an accident despite the fact that I knew exactly where all the guns were and how to access them. It’s very easy to avoid accidents if you obey four basic safety tips….

    • Diane Dimond on June 18, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      Scott Hansen, You had excellent, aware, and vigilant parents. Lucky man. Wish all parents were as careful with their firearms as yours were.

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