By Melanie Austin, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Bloomfield




Why does my pediatrician ask me about guns?

Talk about a HOT topic! Today I will do my best to remove politics from the discussion and talk about why pediatricians ask you about guns in your home during your well patient visits. We’re not just being nosy or judgmental. In fact, some of your pediatricians may recreationally hunt or even have a hand gun. But the way most pediatricians have guns in their homes is different from your average American. By adopting some of these measures we can make our homes safer for our children and their friends, and our community.


First and foremost: They secure their weapons.

Guns are appropriately unloaded and locked up and ammunition is locked separately. This goes for guns in your home, in your purse, in your car, etc. Guns are way too enticing for a child — even when they know the rules: “STOP. Don’t touch, leave the area, get an adult.”



The onus is on us, the adult, to make sure a child is never tempted. And that means firearms should be properly stored. 1.7 million children live in homes where guns are not secured. Do you? Do your child’s friends? Even scarier — in houses where people had guns, 70% children under 10 yrs old knew where that gun was stored, and one-third (33%) of them had handled it without permission. ONE-THIRD!!!


Modeling responsible behavior.

Never fool or joke around with a gun. You pick up every gun as if it is loaded. Sometimes it’s difficult for someone, especially a child, to tell if a gun is real or not. BB guns should be treated the same as hunting rifles. And never rely on the gun’s safety alone.



This may be the most difficult to do, but it’s also the most important. If your child has a play date at someone’s house, ask if the family has a gun and how it is stored. Most responsible gun owners are more than thrilled to tell you all about their safety techniques.
If you’re uncomfortable asking, make it part of a large safety discussion, or discussion of the house rules. Or move the play date to the mall or a park. If the parent tells you they have an unsecured weapon, you can state that, “Little Jimmy is a poor listener and gets into everything. Let’s meet at the park.” (Throwing your kid “under the bus” and blaming him is okay in this case!). Or blame your spouse: “My wife/husband/partner is really freaked out by all the accidental shootings (which, by the way, have averaged four per week since Jan 2016). Could you tell me about weapons in your home?” While it feels uncomfortable and a bit intrusive at first, you get used to it, and it becomes second nature.

While I focused on play dates, it’s important to include family in this discussion — especially family that no longer has young children in the home. Toddlers rummaging through their stuff may no longer be on their radar. ASK about hand guns and hunting rifles in any house where your child may spend time — grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, close family friends. Your children deserve it.


Teens and guns…

Just because they understand the deadly nature of guns, doesn’t mean that you no longer need to lock things up. In fact, you need to be more vigilant! Teens are impulsive by nature — it has to do with the lack of myelination of the prefrontal cortex. Or in non -medical speak, the decision-making area of the brain in not fully… online. This leads to poorly thought-out decision-making, where consequences of actions aren’t thought through.

Suicide in teens has less to do with mental illness and more to do with access. Who doesn’t remember being a teen where a zit was the end of the world, and a breakup was devastation. Some teens act impulsively on these feelings. If a teen has access to a gun, a self-inflicted wound is fatal 85% of the time. Without access to guns, suicide attempts are much less successful. Pill ingestions, for example, are fatal just 2% of the time.

If a teen has made suicidal gestures or exhibits signs of depression, remove the guns from your home and speak with your pediatrician ASAP, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or 1-888-424-2287 (Allegheny County Crisis Intervention Hotline).

Also, as our children get older we have less and less easy contact with their friends’ parents. Make a dinner date, or have a mom’s night out, and meet them. Find out about safety. Teens are home alone more and you may not know exactly who is coming in an out of the house. They could have a friend who is capricious with guns, a practical joker, a thief, or a mixed-up kid who wishes to harm himself or others. Do you want your weapon to be the one used in the crime — to know that crime could very likely be averted if they didn’t have access to that weapon?

What if Adam Lanza’s mother had locked her weapons or kept them at the range? Quite possibly those 20 beautiful children and their 6 teachers in Newtown, CT, would still be here. How many tragedies could be averted by removing opportunity — the opportunity to accidentally shoot a sibling, the opportunity to take one’s life, and even the opportunity to commit a violent crime or a mass shooting.


For more information…

> Be SMART Program (

> Everytown for Gun Safety (

> Moms Demand Action (

> Project ChildSafe — from the National Shooting Sports Foundation  (

> Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (



> “Parenting Misconceptions about Children and Firearms,”Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 160 no5(2006)

> “Blocking the path to suicide,”The New York Times — 3/09/2015

> Video: ABC News 20/20 with Diane Sawyer, January 2014, “Special Report: Kids and Guns — By the Numbers.”


Read The PediaBlog’s extensive coverage of firearm safety here.