Toddlers, Teens and Temptation

It’s time for my semi-annual soapbox rant about kids and safe firearm storage. I feel like a broken record – repeating myself over and over. But the message is so important that it bears repeating – because every month we gain new firearms owners in our midst and every month experienced firearms owners bring home new little bundles of joy to the nursery. Those people need to hear this message and we ALL need to be reminded from time-to-time.

The NRA’s Eddie Eagle program and the NSSF’s Project Childsafe are good places to start when looking for child firearm safety information. Two other sources I trust are The Cornered Cat and Citizens Defense Research/Melody Lauer. 

Child safety around firearms is a high-profile issue. It is the issue that the anti-gunners hang their proverbial hats upon because it elicits a gut-reaction in the general public. Although more children die by accidental drowning every year than by firearms accidents, those gun accidents become big news and are not only tragic but provide more fodder for those who seek to curtail our rights. 

By now, probably, everyone in the universe has seen the viral video of the toddler scaling the “safety gate” that was supposed to make the pool ladder unclimbable. Videos like this give even the most stoic parent the willies. Just when you think your child is as safe as you can possibly make them they show you just how misplaced your smug satisfaction is.

The really shocking thing is that this is not a particularly talented toddler. Videos like this are all over the internet. This is just the latest installment in the object lesson “Never trust that your child CAN’T do that”. And THAT, my friends, includes anything to do with firearms.

People underestimate small children because their verbal skills are limited. But I warn parents all the time to not be fooled into complacency – your child may not be able to string more than three words together at a time, but the wheels in his or her head are always turning. They are watching you all the time – watching you turn handles, unscrew lids, use all sorts of tools, input the passcode into your phone  – and even your gun safe. They know how to do things because they’ve watched YOU do it.

I saw a vendor at SHOT Show the other year who was introducing a trigger lock device that didn’t have a key. It relied upon the user manipulating the device in a certain sequence in lieu of an actual lock. I “passed” on reviewing that piece of merchandise, because I knew that it would take an observant 4-year old about 3 minutes to figure out the sequence. I told them as much, but I don’t think they believed me. They apparently have never seen a child open a “childproof cap” before.

The swimming pool gate video I mentioned above is particularly instructive because it illustrates the monkey-like climbing ability of some children. Some people seem to think (erroneously) that if they store their firearms “up high”, that they don’t need to lock them up. Watch that video again. Small children WILL find a way to get at what they want. They will use anything and everything as a ladder to get at the object of their desires – whether it’s a toddler using the kitchen drawers as a stairway to the cookie jar, or the four-year old scaling the closet doorframe to find the Christmas presents on the top shelf. Your gun is no different than the cookies or the Christmas presents to your small child. If he wants it, he will find a way to get to it.

Please do not trust your child’s safety to your misperceptions of his or her physical and mental abilities. Small children can and HAVE pulled double-action triggers. They have racked slides on semi-autos. Small children are descended from our cave-dwelling forebears who figured out how to turn a rock and a stick into a spear. Don’t underestimate them.

Then there are the parents who seem to rely solely on the impulse-control of their children to keep them safe. “We’ve taught our kids never to touch those guns” is a common refrain. This sounds awfully smug and confident, but would you gamble your child’s LIFE on their ability to resist temptation? I wouldn’t. Impulse-control is not a strong suit for small children or even adolescents. 

Some kids might be as honest and obedient as the day is long, but others will nod their heads and say “Yes Mommy”, all the while their brain is trying to figure out how to do exactly what you just told them not to. They’re not necessarily being “bad”, they are just demonstrating immature brain development and executive functioning. Some grown adults haven’t even developed good executive function and impulse-control, so why are these people expecting this kind of neurologic maturity of their children?

Melody Lauer of Citizens Defense Research even “test-cased” her own children and wrote an eye-opening article to prove the point. I wish the smugly assured folks would read it.

Teenagers are another tougher matter. Many teens are much more responsible than their peers and are able to bear the safety burden that handling firearms requires. But given the trend in school shootings and adolescent suicides, it might be wise to allow your teens to access your firearms only under your direct supervision. That way, if an unscrupulous friend of theirs wants to see the guns or tries to pressure your teen, they can quite honestly reply that they cannot access the family firearms. That would have to be an individual call made by individual families, but it’s something to think about given today’s social pressures on adolescents.

My main focus here has been securing firearms from children, but there is another set of people from whom you should secure your firearms – houseguests or any other unauthorized persons. You don’t always know the abilities and reputation of your children’s friends, or even the plumber. Do you trust every workman who comes to your house? How about your shifty cousin Charlie who comes over for the New Year’s Party? Nosy Aunt Marlene? Those rotten sneaky twins of your cousins? Would you trust any of them with a firearm? If the answer is no, please lock them up — the firearms, not your relatives. Although you might be tempted with Cousin Charlie.

Dr LateBloomer
Dr LateBloomer is a female general pediatrician who bought her first firearm at the age of 46. She now enjoys many different shooting disciplines including self-defense, IDPA, Steel/Rimfire Challenge, Sporting clays, and even tried 3-Gun for several years. She has gotten started in hunting and has expanded into crossbow. She is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and works to enlighten her medical colleagues whenever possible.