Curiosity can lead a child to many places. More often than not, those places are not the safest. A 3-year-old boy in Davie, Fla. sent his mother to the emergency room Monday, Feb. 2, after retrieving a gun from her purse and firing a shot into her leg by accident.
Two weeks prior, a family from East Lake, Fla. left their 2-year-old son unattended in the car while in the process of moving. He fatally shot himself with his father’s gun that was stored in the glove compartment.
As Florida becomes the catalyst for nationwide discussions on gun control laws, gun-safety and other surrounding issues are somehow overlooked.
Since more than one-third of Americans with children have guns, many organizations are trying to shed light on gun-safety and preventative actions like adhering to proper storing methods and informing our children of the dangers.
Florida A&M University criminal justice professor, Carl Bennett, is a retired law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience working with Tallahassee Police Department. Bennett retired from law enforcement as a major but recalls his time as Deputy Sheriff patrolling the streets as well as schools.
“We had several encounters with students bringing guns to school,” Bennett said. “For whatever reason the older children and teenagers think it’s cool.”
As an active police officer, Bennett remembers speaking with his children about the dangers of firearms at a young age. “Young kids are fascinated by guns. They don’t know any better,” Bennett said.
“It is up to the parents when to have that discussion but it would be a good idea to start once the child is able to walk and so forth,” Bennett continued.
New Beginnings Educational Research Center for Child Development is a pre-school on FAMU’s campus for children ages 1-5.
While most of the children at New Beginnings know what guns do, the consequences of shooting a firearm are still a foreign concept.
Chrisette Haynes, 5, is able to recognize the fundamental difference between a toy gun and a real gun. “Some toy guns can spray water,” Haynes said. “Real guns can shoot fire.”
Four-year-old New Beginnings student, Tyson Thorpe, imagined a deer in a forest when asked what images comes to mind after hearing the word “shoot.”
Children are very impressionable and observant when it comes to adults. Like the pre-school students at New Beginnings, children may know the function of a gun or be familiar with the images associated with it, but the more concerning issue is whether they are being properly educated on the safety aspect and what to do if they come in contact with a gun.
Leon County School Resource deputy sheriff of Pace Secondary School, Ric Lopez, has been an officer for seven years and frequently speaks to school-aged kids and parents about the importance of gun-safety.
“Firearms are not toys and should not be kept in an area where children can access them,” Lopez said.
He recommends that guns should be secured in a gun safe or lock box because parents can be responsible for any unintentional shootings.
“If parents do not properly lock and store away firearms at home, they can be held criminally liable if a child accesses the weapon, discharges the weapon or injures another,” Lopez said.
Many college students are venturing into a career in education and believe that children should be learning about gun-safety at the elementary level.
Leah Moore, a FAMU early childhood education student from Jacksonville, Fla., hopes the education system will be more proactive and include more dialog on gun-safety before tragedies happen.
“More discussions would be helpful,” Moore said. “We had a shooting at our middle school, so it was something that we had to talk about.”
Guns have become a means of protection for a large segment of Americans. As gun sales rise to new heights, the conversation about gun-safety should match in frequency.
Here are some gun-safety rules from the Project ChildSafe Organization:
Guidelines for Safe Storage
Unloaded firearms should be stored in a locked cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage case. The storage location should be inaccessible to children.
Gun locking devices render firearms inoperable and can be used in addition to locked storage. If firearms are disassembled, parts should be securely stored in separate locations.
Ammunition should be stored in a locked location separate from firearms.
Thoroughly double check firearms to confirm that they are unloaded when you remove them from storage. Accidents could occur if a family member borrows a gun and returns it to storage while still loaded.
A Message for Your Children
What to do if you come in contact with a gun:
Stop what you are doing
Do not touch
Leave the area
Go tell an adult immediately