In light of this empirical reality, coupled with the fact that many gun owners are unaware that children have handled their guns, the safest policy is not having a gun in the home. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates this approach to safety.
In contrast, the NRA claims that its safety programs work and are sufficient, despite significant evidence to the contrary. The NRA ignores the overwhelming evidence that firearms make children less safe and continues to promote bills that forbid pediatricians from talking to parents about guns and safety measures.
In homes that do have guns, safely storing a firearm locked and unloaded is critical. Laws holding gun owners responsible for the safe storage of firearms reduced unintentional shooting deaths among children by 23 percent. Further, a disproportionately large share of unintentional firearm deaths happen in states where gun owners were more likely to store firearms loaded, and especially in states where owners more often stored firearms unlocked and loaded. This is true even after controlling for factors such as firearm prevalence and poverty.
Perhaps the most promising step forward in children’s safety is the advent of smart guns. These firearms can be fired only by the owner, thereby drastically reducing the risk of accidental shootings and teenage suicides. A 2003 study examined unintentional, undetermined intent and negligent homicide firearm deaths occurring in Milwaukee County and Maryland between 1991 and 1998. The study determined that 37 percent of the deaths would have been prevented by a smart gun.
Efforts to introduce these much safer weapons have stalled in the face of a fierce backlash from extreme gun advocates, with one gun store owner even receiving death threats for offering smart guns. The most sophisticated smart gun model, the German-made Armatix iP1 .22-caliber pistol, can be fired only while the owner is wearing an accompanying wristwatch with a built-in RFID tag. The universal adoption of such a device would drastically reduce gun deaths.
Unfortunately, extreme gun advocates are committed to a misinformation campaign, claiming that smart guns have high failure rates. Not only is this accusation based on concerns about outdated fingerprint technology, which the Armatix iP1 doesn’t use, but this gun has passed state reliability tests with a successful firing rate of more than 99 percent.
Toy guns, like teddy bears, have tomes of regulation dedicated to reducing the risk of fatal accidents, but real guns, the single device most responsible for accidental child fatalities, have exactly zero federal safety standards regulating their designs. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been forbidden by Congress since 1976 to address gun safety, at the urging of the NRA. Gun manufacturers, under federal law, have since been able to choose gun designs without regard for safety or public health.
The NRA and extreme gun advocates perpetuate a culture of fear and violence, teaching children that guns are a solution. We are seeing the results of this culture in our schools. Bullied students are bringing thousands of guns to schools. Since the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012, there have been 74 shootings at schools, events that used to be exceedingly rare. Further, one study found that exposure to firearm violence doubles the risk that an adolescent will then in turn commit violent acts over the next two years. The death toll continues to mount.