Parents seem willing to discuss almost any intimacy: breastfeeding, co-sleeping, spanking, how much their home has appreciated, the tawdry details of the latest Hollywood or Washington sex scandal. But they're oddly reticent when it comes to talking about firearms. Socially, it just seems easier to assume that a playdate's parents are taking adequate measures to protect him from guns.
Sadly, that's not always the case: According to a recent report in Pediatrics, nearly 1.7 million American children live in homes with unlocked, loaded firearms. So most experts agree that maintaining a head-in-the-sand posture on gun safety is a cop-out that puts kids at serious risk.
But it's a common one. A study by San Francisco General Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that parents are more confident than they should be about how well they protect kids from getting their hands on household guns. In 39 percent of families where parents said their 5- to 14-year-olds didn't know where guns were stored, the kids actually did know the location. In 22 percent of homes where the parents said their children had never handled a gun, the kids told researchers that they had.
When children can get their hands on guns, the danger is clear. "Kids see a ball, they bounce it. They see a gun; they shoot it," says Graham Snyder, MD, an emergency-medicine specialist at WakeMed Health and Hospitals, in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Even young children know exactly what to do with a gun: Point at something and shoot it. That's what they see on TV or in the movies."