Lock Your Guns Away or My Kids Can't Play

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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On March 12 of this year, two children in this country were shot and killed. One was seven and the other only a year old. Also that same day, a third—a 14-year-old—was shot in the leg and survived. None of these kids was shot by bloodthirsty, violent criminals. They weren’t killed in murder-suicides or by distraught parents. No, these boys were shot, and two died, after their siblings found unsecured firearms in their homes and accidentally pulled the trigger. The 7-year-old from Lake Providence, LA was killed when his 12-year-old brother accidentally shot him, and the 1-year-old from Mobile, AL died after his brother—a mere 2-year-old himself—found and discharged a gun in his parents’ bedroom.

Two children are gone forever. And their siblings have will have to live with this guilt for the rest of their lives.

And sadly, having three kids be accidentally shot in one day isn’t surprising. Or a rare occurrence. In fact, according to Everytown, which tracks unintentional shootings involving children, this tragedy occurs every 34 hours, on average.

So, whose fault is it? Can we really blame that 12-year-old? We certainly can’t blame a toddler. Whose job is it to keep our kids safe? Yours and mine.

And it doesn’t take much to see that the common denominator here is accessible loaded guns in the home.

No one thinks it will happen in their house. But tragically, it does—and it happens to good parents too. Parents who love their kids, who watch them carefully, and want them to be safe. It happens when parents think the risks of having unsecured firearms in their home are worth taking. Parents who think that the likelihood of an intruder trespassing on their property and them needing a weapon for self-defense is greater than their children finding and accidentally shooting each other.

But the thing is, statistically, as explained in “The Myth Behind Defensive Gun Ownership”, the odds are far greater that their kids will harm each other or themselves than their parents ever using these firearms for self-defense.

These might be law-abiding citizens who make their kids wear seat belts and bike helmets. These are likely moms and dads who make healthy meals with vegetables and take their kids to baseball practice and help with homework every night. And because of the naive assumption that their children “won’t find the gun” or “won’t shoot it” or “know gun safety,” they are the now the parents of a deceased child and another who inadvertently caused his sibling’s death.

It is just not a risk I am willing to take, folks. Living in a state where hunting reigns supreme, and gun owners are aplenty, ensuring your guns are locked away is the only way my child will be allowed to play at your house. (And, by the way, I am not anti-hunting. We eat meat. Our son is a Boy Scout who has practiced safe shooting and archery. I support your right to have a hunting rifle. Just. Lock. It. Up. Properly.)

I don’t care if your 12-year-old “knows gun safety.” I think that’s great that you’ve taught him the importance of respecting a firearm’s power. I don’t care if you think your guns are “hidden under the bed” or “high up in the closet and out of reach.”

That’s not good enough.

One of my children’s favorite activities is a marathon game of good ol’ Hide and Seek. They will hide anywhere, will slither their little bodies into the tiniest of spaces, and will climb anything. You cannot guarantee your guns won’t be found.

Also, even if my kids know to not touch a gun (which we’ve vehemently impressed upon them), and your kids know to not touch a gun, how about the neighbor who pops over? Does he know to not touch a gun?

I hate to break to to you, but our kids don’t always tell us the truth because they don’t want to get into trouble. (Hence the reason why my 5-year-old vehemently denied sneaking three cookies despite him having chocolate all over his face and wrappers under his bed. He’ll deny that shit until he’s blue in the face.) You might think your kid doesn’t know where your gun is, or won’t touch it, but according to Giffords Law Center, you may be misinformed. “Studies show that these unsecured weapons are frequently accessible to—and accessed by—young children, even when parents believe they are not. 73% of children aged nine and under reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36% admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents had reported their children did not know the location of their firearm.”

Newsflash: Kids lie. Kids test their boundaries and take risks. It’s part of being a kid. So, we need to take the proper precautions to keep them (and their friends) safe.

I know there’s only so much we can do to keep our families safe. We still send our children to school, and take them to concerts. We let them ride in cars and on planes. There could be a crazed mass shooter around any corner, and we can’t let that fear prevent us from living our lives or letting our kids live theirs.

But this—letting my kids only play in gun-safe homes— is something I do have control over. This is one way I can keep my children safe.

A gun-safe home has its guns stored, unloaded, in a locked safe—to which children have no access. They do not know the code to unlock it. Or have access to a key. Also, ammunition should be locked up and stored separately from the guns.

If you want to verify that someone’s home is gun-safe, but find this conversation awkward, you can check out for help. On this site, you’ll find examples of questions you can ask to ensure your child’s safety, such as, “May I ask, if you have guns in your home, are they locked and inaccessible to the kids?” And, you may follow up with asking where the safe is located and verifying, again, that the kids don’t know how to access the guns inside.

The statistics are staggering. According to Everytown, 52 children in America have been accidentally shot since the start of 2018. And I am going to do everything in my power to ensure that my kids aren’t numbers 53, 54, and 55.

Giffords Law Center also reports that “89% of accidental shooting deaths among children occur in the home and that most of these deaths occur when children are playing with an unsecured loaded gun in their parents’ absence.” 89%. Let that number sink in and tell me again why you don’t need to lock up your guns properly.

Listen, if you are having my kid over, you’re probably giving me a much needed break, and I am grateful. I don’t care if you give him fruit snacks. I don’t care if you have screen time limits. Or if you don’t have screen time limits. I don’t care if you send him outside or let him veg out on Minecraft. I don’t care if you serve homemade muffins or throw a bag of pretzels into your basement.

But your guns must be locked away. Or my kids can’t play.

For more resources on proper gun storage, visit for safety tips.

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