An ever increasing number of people are purchasing firearms for home protection today. Many of these people are first time firearms owners who have decided for various reasons to add a layer of protection for their families. This means that many homes with firearms will also have children present and while good firearms safety storage measures are important to block access to all unauthorized persons, its especially important to consider how to safeguard your children as well as to introduce them to any firearms you have in your home.
It is the responsibility of all gun owners to store their guns safely. New Jersey law (Statute 2C:58-15) requires that firearms be inaccessible to minors. It states “A person who knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to a loaded firearm at a premises under the person’s control commits a disorderly persons offense if a minor gains access to the firearm, unless the person: (1) Stores the firearm in a securely locked box or container; (2) Stores the firearm in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure; or (3) Secures the firearm with a trigger lock.” Other states have similar laws restricting a minor’s access to firearms and with exclusions where applicable.
If you take it a step further, I would suggest that it is a good idea that all occupants of the home be educated – on their level – on how to safely handle, or not handle a firearm. There is no right or wrong age or amount of information given to a child regarding firearms, it is solely up to the discretion of parents to decide what is appropriate in their situation.
The first question many new gun owners will ask is if the gun is meant for home protection, how can it be stored unloaded? Of course, any firearm that will be used for personal and home protection will need to be stored ready for immediate use and easily accessible to those authorized to use it. There are many ways to store a gun as “inaccessible” but the first question following how the gun will be used is who will be present in the home. When children are present, the best gun storage will be in a locked safe. As children are naturally curious, guns that are stored in the top of closets or attics should not be considered inaccessible to children.
There are a number of options when choosing a safe to store your home defense firearm. Safes that use keys will make it difficult to access the gun quickly, so a better choice would be a keypad design or a biometric fingerprint safe that is secured inside a drawer or is attached to a wall or nightstand. With a biometric safe, several fingerprints can be stored in the memory of the safe that will allow quick access, usually within seconds, to the loaded firearm inside. Biometric safes can be finicky however, and some people will have a more difficult time having their fingerprints recognized immediately. Another choice is a safe with a digital keypad. The keypad would have four buttons set in the pattern of a hand and the user programs a set order in which to hit the buttons to open the safe. With practice, this sort of safe is easy to use both quickly and in the dark. In order to access the firearm quickly, regular practice, even nightly, is recommended. A good trick is to hide something you need inside, like your car keys or prescription medicine until you can open the safe without even thinking about it. There are also safes that combine fingerprint recognition and a keypad in case it fails to open using one of the methods. All safes of this kind will have back up keys, be sure to keep them in a separate location from the safe, and inaccessible to children.
Firearms that will not be used for home defense can be stored in a safe with any type of lock as they don’t need to be accessed immediately. A common design of a safe for storing long guns would have a combination lock on the door.
It should go without saying that anyone handling firearms follow the rules of safe gun handling. Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Always keep your gun unloaded until ready to use it. It is important to stress the word “always” each time you mention safe gun handing, especially with new shooters and when introducing firearms to children.
For very young children, the best education concerning firearms is to stress that they should not be touched under any circumstances and to leave the area and tell an adult immediately if a gun is present. Some parents may decide that it is better not to mention to their children that firearms are present in the home at all. It is up to each family to decide the appropriate level of knowledge for their children.
I have found that because children are naturally curious, it is hard to hide anything from them. Each of my children had the opportunity to see, touch and handle a gun in our home under my supervision. They have all been educated on the rules of safe gun handling and have been told to only handle firearms in my presence and with my permission. I have also made it clear that anytime they wish to see a gun in our home all they have to do is ask. If you decide to offer this option to your children, and I believe it is a good one, be prepared to respond immediately when they ask you to see your gun. Also be prepared to take the time to allow them to handle the gun, safely, if they so choose. Doing this will take away the mystery from the gun and by dropping what you are doing you are showing your child how important it is that an adult be present when guns are present and it takes away the mystique of the gun. Be prepared for an inquisitive child to test you and ask you at a very inconvenient time to see your gun. If you comply, you will find that you have passed the “test” and the interest and thrill will quickly wear off. It is unlikely the child will continue to ask you to see the gun. By doing this you have also added another level of protection for your child. If your child has had exposure to your gun under your supervision, it is unlikely he will feel the need to handle a gun, for example, when visiting a friend’s house. Further, since he has the information you provided to him, he knows to leave the area and tell an adult.
When making the decision to inform your child about guns in your home, remember that children will share information with anyone they come into contact with, their teachers, friends, even the cashier at the supermarket. So consider how open you want to be about the fact that you own guns and weigh that against the kind of safety cushion you provide your child with by introducing him to the guns in your home. Also consider that if you tell your child about your guns but then ask him to keep it a secret, it presents a difficult message for a less mature child. It is difficult for some children to process what information belongs as private family information and what can be shared with others. You don’t want to have your child think there is anything “wrong” with the fact that his family owns guns. The more matter of fact you are about it, the less enticing the idea of sharing the information will be to your child.