Safe gun storage is imperative to prevent tragedies

By Kerri Korin

Jan. 19 was Gun Appreciation Day in the United States, a day celebrated with a number of gun shows across the country. In perhaps an ironic twist, there were three separate gun-related accidents in North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana. In the North Carolina accident, three people were injured when a gun owner went to the entrance of the gun show to have his 12 gauge shotgun checked. When the gun owner took the shotgun out of the case, it accidentally discharged and three bystanders were hit with “birdshot.” In Ohio, a gun dealer was checking out a semi-automatic handgun he had just purchased when he accidentally pulled the trigger. The gun dealer had removed the ammunition magazine, but forgot about a round in the chamber. The bullet hit the floor then struck a friend of the gun dealer in the arm and leg. Lastly, in Indiana, a visitor to a gun show was loading a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun when he accidentally shot himself in the hand.

The above examples illustrate the fact that even when individuals are familiar with and well-versed in handling guns, accidents can still occur. Moreover, when guns are easily accessible in homes and are not stored safely, they can find their way into the hands of children and individuals with mental health issues with tragic results. According to the SafetyED website, individuals are 43 times more likely to be shot or accidentally killed by a gun in their home than by an intruder.

The KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs (FCCP) policy on the storage of guns in a foster home requires the following:

  • Guns must be stored in a locked setting at all times.
  • Firearms must have a trigger lock in place at all times or must be kept in a locked regulation gun storage unit, which does not include glass.
  • All firearms must be stored unloaded at all times.
  • Ammunition for firearms must be stored in a separate locked setting. The key or combination to access the ammunition must be different from that which allows access to the firearms.
In addition to firearms, one must be concerned with the safe storage of all weapons, including archery equipment, martial arts throwing stars and knives, darts, slingshots and other projectiles. KidsPeace FCCP recommends that archery equipment be stored in accordance with the above guidelines for the storage of firearms and ammunition. Arrows must be stored in a locked setting separate from the bow and the key or combination must be different for each setting. Knives and other cutting instruments designed for any sport or for personal protection should also be stored in a locked setting.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) also recognizes that proper handgun storage can prevent deadly accidents. The NRA recommends that guns be stored with the use of gun/trigger locks and locking gun cabinets or safes. They also advise that guns be stored only after all ammunition is removed, making sure to check the chamber. The NRA recommends that access to firearms be limited to only those who know how to properly handle a firearm and that ammunition is stored in a separate locked setting.

The NRA prescribes three safety rules for the handling of a gun. Control the muzzle of the gun so it is always pointed toward the ground or in a direction that if the gun discharges accidentally, no harm is done. Keep one’s finger off the trigger until ready to fire the weapon by resting the finger along the trigger guard. Keep the gun unloaded until ready to use, and never store a loaded gun.

Safe gun handling and storage is critically important for safety, especially in homes with children. Even those who use guns regularly, or for employment, must maintain vigilance at all times to guard against gun accidents. One of my daughters was almost shot when her stepfather, an experienced armed guard, was cleaning his service revolver. He had forgotten to check for a round in the chamber and while cleaning it the gun discharged. He ended up shooting himself in the knee but my daughter was standing next to him, observing, and was traumatized by the incident.
Children often have a fascination with guns, which is fueled seeing gun use depicted on television, by playing with toys guns and playing video games with shooting themes. It is very difficult for children to understand that the gun they encounter can do real harm, especially children who have no concept of mortality or the difference between reality and fantasy. Even if one doesn’t have young children, visitors could bring children with them who could be temporarily unsupervised and find an improperly stored firearm.

While safe gun storage and handling is important, it is also important to teach children about gun safety from an early age, beginning when they first show an interest in firearms, even toy ones. Explain safety rules and answer any questions they may have. Discuss the difference between toy guns and real guns. The NRA also advises teaching children the four steps of gun safety if they find or see a gun:

1. Stop!
2. Don’t touch.
3. Leave the area.
4. Tell an adult.

Adults must be sure to never store a gun outside of a locked setting, even if they feel that there is no way a child could access their chosen hiding spot, such as the back of a closet, under a pillow or on top of a tall bookcase. Just as a gun one is sure is unloaded can turn out to be loaded and discharge, children can find even well-hidden firearms.

Being proactive about the safe storage and handling of firearms and other weapons will prevent accidental injury and death and will provide a degree of peace of mind to both gun owners and parents. There are a number of things one can never take back: a spoken word, unkind actions and a discharged weapon. One can, however, keep a tragic accident from occurring in the first place.

Born and raised in Montana, Kerri Korin, M.A., moved to Pennsylvania in November of 1991 and began working for KidsPeace (then Wiley House) in January of 1992, first as a family resource specialist, then as a program development specialist/manager and currently as the Nevada state manager. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Montana and a Master of Arts Degree in psychology with a specialization in organization leadership from the University of the Rockies. She lives in Las Vegas. She is married with three wonderful stepdaughters, two-and-a-half amazing grandchildren (one due in June) and is mom to a Golden Retriever.