Children and guns: playing with fire-arms

Written by Tristan Free

A recent study has found that children struggle to identify the difference between real and fake firearms regardless of parental gun ownership status, with safe gun storage being more of an issue than their parents think.

Children and guns.

A recent study conducted at Emory University School of Medicine (GA, USA), exploring safe gun storage and firearm safety education in American families has uncovered some concerning results. The research team, led by Keisha Fraser Doh, found that less than half of the children surveyed could identify a real from a toy gun, and perhaps even more worryingly, only a third of responding parents kept the gun locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition.

The survey included 297 caregiver-child pairs sourced from visitors to three pediatric emergency departments in the southeastern United States over a 3 month period; 79% of respondents were female, 71% had had some degree of college education and 51% earned over $50,000 a year. Gun owners (GO) represented 25% of the respondents and were significantly more likely to be white, earn over $50,000 a year and have some college education, compared to their unarmed counterparts.

The study found that GOs were more likely to; allow their child to play with a toy gun (51% vs 26%), have spoken to their children about firearm safety (86% vs 58%) and believe that their child could identify a real from a fake gun (71% vs 63%).

Despite the increased familiarity with real and fake guns, however, when the children, who were mostly confident that they could identify a real gun regardless of gun ownership, were shown pictures of real vs fake firearms, less than half of the respondents from both GO and NGO groups were able to correctly identify the real gun. In fact, the NGO children actually proved slightly more adept at the exercise than the GO children with 42% spotting the real gun compared to 39% in the GO group.

Perhaps even more troubling was the results pertaining to the children’s access to guns. Less than 5% of parents surveyed thought that their children could access a firearm in less than 24 hours, but when asked, 14% of GO and 4% of NGO said they could obtain a firearm in less than a day. What’s more, of the GOs surveyed only 34% stored their guns unloaded in a locked cabinet separate from the ammunition as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, while 53% of children from this group were aware of the gun’s location and 45% knew where to find the ammunition.

This study clearly highlights the dangers in relaxed gun storage, with a disturbingly high percentage of children able to access firearms yet unable to identify the difference between a genuine and fake piece of weaponry.  As such, the study could prove useful in informing the future campaigns for educating parents on safe firearm storage, which are so clearly required.