"Is There a Gun in the House?"

How to Steer Clear

That's why it's critical for parents to keep their kids away from guns -- and the best way to do that is to always find out whether there's a weapon in any home where a kid goes to play. "You tell your toddler not to run into the street, but you also put up a fence," says Dr. Snyder. "You tell your preteen not to go to inappropriate Web sites and chat rooms, but you may also install Internet filters. Why wouldn't you ask whether there are firearms in a place where your child plays? What do you have to lose?"

Many parents admit that approaching the subject can be difficult. "When I first started asking other parents, I was really intimidated," says Paula Beer, a mother from Brooklyn, who began inquiring after reading a recommendation in a brochure. "But everyone I've asked has responded wonderfully. Parents say, 'That's a great question! I never thought to ask that.'" So far, no one has owned up to having a firearm in their home, Beer says. But if they did? "I'd tell them, 'It's not a judgment on you, but I have a very active little boy who's really curious and into everything. I just don't feel comfortable with him playing in a place where there are guns. Let's set up a playdate at my place.'"

That's what many experts believe is the best response. The AAP says that ideally there shouldn't be any guns in a home with kids. But aware that not everyone will abide by that recommendation, the AAP also offers guidelines on how to safely store firearms: "The gun should be unloaded and locked away, and the ammunition should be locked in a separate location," says Robert Sege, MD, chief of the division of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the New England Medical Center, in Boston. Dr. Snyder goes even further: He has coined what he calls the "20-2 rule": That is, in households with children, parents should have their guns secured with enough layers of protection -- a locked gun safe, a trigger lock, and bullets locked away from the unloaded weapon -- that a 20-year-old with 2 hours on his hands couldn't get to them. "If a 20-year-old can get to them with minimal effort, so can your average fifth-grader," Dr. Snyder says.

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