Asking other parents about guns in the home

Public health experts say guns and ammunition should be stored and locked separately to avoid accidents.

Q: What do I ask other parents about how any handguns are stored in their homes?

A: Asking another parent whether they have guns in their home, and how they store firearms, can be done as part of a broader discussion about safety that takes place before a play date, and should involve a two-way exchange of information, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

The same conversation can address other safety concerns, such as food allergies or swimming pool safety.

“People get really upset when you talk about their guns if they think you have a political agenda,” Benjamin said. “When you talk about safety, you put it in context. ‘I want your kids safe at my house, and I want my kids safe at your house.’ ”

When it comes to guns, the safest situation is not having firearms in the home at all, he said.

But about a third of Americans with children younger than 18 do have a gun in their home, including 34 percent of families with a child younger than 12, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.

Many parents who don’t own guns have never talked about gun safety with their children, according to a report from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

If parents keep firearms in their home, the weapons should be stored unloaded, locked in a safe and separated from ammunition, according to Benjamin. All three conditions are important because each one adds another layer of protection.

“If someone says, ‘We don’t keep it loaded,’ that’s great, but there are numerous stories of people who thought it was not loaded but failed to take the last round out of the chamber,” Benjamin said.

The National Rifle Association does not advocate any particular gun storage method, a spokesman said, adding that parents should ask gun owners if they store firearms in a way that makes them “completely inaccessible” and place ammunition where a child cannot reach it. But Benjamin said the firearms should be stored in a locked safe, and not in a kitchen, bedroom drawer, closet or woodshed that could be left unlocked inadvertently or jimmied open by a teen or a younger child. The ammunition should be locked in a separate location.

The trickiest situation is when people own guns for personal protection, Benjamin said, “because they want to be able to get to it quickly and use it quickly.”

Even if you do not own a gun, it’s important to have a conversation with your children about what to do if they ever see a gun, said Shannon Watts, a gun safety advocate and founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Children should be taught to leave the area immediately, not touch the firearm, tell an adult right away and call a parent, Watts said.