According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), guns are now the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 19 — a statistic that includes firearm deaths by unintentional injury, suicide and homicide. At the same time, gun ownership has risen significantly since 2020.
When youth have access to firearms, they have a dramatically increased risk of firearm injury and death. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has joined forces with thousands of hospitals on “It Doesn’t Kill to Ask,” a nationwide initiative to normalize conversations about safer gun storage.
“We want to incorporate this concept of safer firearm storage into our general safety recommendations for families,” says Dorothy R. Novick, MD, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia. “This is not a political conversation. This is a conversation about keeping your kids safe.”
Children and guns by the numbers
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says removing firearms from the home is the most protective measure families can take. Yet pervasive gun ownership is a fact of life in the United States, and easy access to firearms puts children and adolescents at an increased risk of unintentional shootings and suicide.
Statistics draw a clear picture of the risk:
- An estimated 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in a home with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm.
- Even when guns are hidden in the home, 75% of youth ages 5 to 14 know where the weapons are kept.
- Every day, 13 kids are killed by guns, and 8 children are shot unintentionally because of an improperly stored or misused gun in the home.
- Easy access to guns presents a heightened risk to adolescents who harbor suicidal thoughts. More than 80% of teens who attempt suicide with a firearm use a family member’s gun. And unlike other means of suicide, attempts with firearms are fatal nine times out of 10.
Start the safe gun storage conversation with friends and family
“It Doesn’t Kill to Ask” has published print, digital and broadcast public-service messages that promote safer gun storage, and offers a toolkit to help parents and caregivers initiate conversations with friends and family. Sample scripts and social media posts take the stress out of wondering how to broach the subject.
Dr. Novick suggests a matter-of-fact approach that mirrors how you’d ask about other safety concerns such as bike helmets, car seats or parental supervision during play dates. Make it a habit to ask about any unlocked guns before your child goes on a play date or visits another home. If the answer is “No,” you’ll have one less worry. If it’s “Yes,” consider meeting in another location or offer to host the play date at your house.
Part of a larger community effort
CHOP has studied the risks of gun violence for children and youth, and offers common-sense guidance to families about ways to limit youth access to guns. In addition to joining this national campaign, the CVP, along with CHOP’s Office of Community Impact, partners with local organizations to provide firearm safety education and free locking devices to a number of communities. In addition, the CVP has launched a program to deliver these resources at the point of health care at several CHOP locations.
How to keep firearms safer and secured at home
Teaching kids to stay away from firearms is always a good idea, but it's important to know this is not enough to keep them safe. If you choose to have guns in the house, store them unloaded and locked (and ideally, disassembled). Ammunition should be stored and locked separately. Only adults should know how to access these storage spaces.
Locking options include cable locks, lockboxes and gun safes. All are available online or where guns are sold. Cable locks are the least expensive option and may be available for free. A cable lock might keep a gun safe from an inquisitive young child, but it might not deter a more determined adolescent. A gun safe is the most secure option and can be used with a separate safe or lockbox, in another part of the house, for the ammunition.
For more information
- It Doesn’t Kill to Ask. Hospitals United
- Gun Safety Tips. Injury Prevention Program, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Gun Safety Program at CHOP. Center for Violence Prevention, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Gun Safety Fact Sheet. Center for Violence Prevention, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- Guns in the Home. American Academy of Pediatrics
Contributed by: Dorothy R. Novick, MD