Guns or Dogs?

With the recent Grand theater shooting, I realized I hadn’t written about gun safety, so it’s overdue.  But I don’t like talking about gun tragedies since I spent a week on the trauma team in third year of medical school.  That week we had three incidents of children coming into the trauma room, dying of gunshot wounds.  The third child was the 5 year-old son of a DEA agent, who had come home from an overnight stake out.  Exhausted, he tossed his pistol on the kitchen table and crashed in bed.  The son woke up sometime later, and you can guess the rest.

I don’t like talking about guns and kids, but as my priest said this past Sunday, a real conversation on guns is overdue. Pediatric firearms deaths aren’t a single event like at the Grand either, but an ongoing problem.  Twice as many children and teens die from gunshots as die from cancer.

Preventing firearm tragedies begins at home, where most deaths occur.  In the past I have discussed how to best prevent your child from drowning in a pool- don’t have one.  Same with guns- it’s best just not to have one in the house.  I own a shotgun, but while my kids were growing up I kept it at my father-in-law’s.

If you must have a gun in the house (we’ll discuss the statistics of that further on), keep it locked in a gun safe, unloaded, with the ammunition locked separately. Regardless of your position on the National Rifle Association (NRA), they advocate this. The NRA has another good idea about safety- teach your kids about guns, to take away the mystery. Teach them to not touch, and even run away from, unattended guns (like at a friend’s house) and immediately tell an adult about unsecure guns.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises doctors to discuss gun safety at office visits, just like above.  Except in Florida, where the legislature and governor passed a law forbidding pediatricians from doing just that.  You would think that that’s unconstitutional, given the right to free speech and a doctor’s duty to ensure child safety. Discussing gun safety is akin to discussing safely storing ant poison.  Inexplicably, two courts have ruled in favor of the law, which illustrates how far afield the gun debate has gone.

Fortunately we’re in Louisiana, so talking gun safety is okay.  As we discussed, it’s best not to have a gun in the house at all.  When my kids were little I kept my shotgun at my father-in-law’s.  When my son became curious about guns, his uncles and I took him hunting to teach him firearm safety.  Our favorite memory is of Uncle Tommy taking him on a squirrel hunt.  They rode the four-wheeler through the woods, zigzagging in the brush for so long that my son thought he was clear to Bunkie, though they ended up only 100 yards from the house.  My son never even touched the rifle, but he learned all about it.

If you have a gun in the house, keep it locked in a gun safe, unloaded, with the ammunition locked away separately.   But keeping it locked doesn’t make sense, some will say. What if someone breaks into my house- the gun won’t be ready!  The statistics are clear: violent home invasions are rare, and guns in the house are much more likely to kill the owner or a family member than an intruder.  Accidental deaths and suicides from home firearms are far more common than successful home defenses.  It’s better to get a dog with a deep, loud bark.

Finally, as any responsible gun owner will say, you must know the laws of ownership and use.  Particularly, as Seth Fontenot unfortunately found out, it’s illegal to use a firearm to stop a robbery.  One of my nurses who is an ex-marine and hunter puts it this way: if someone goes into your garage and starts walking away with your stuff right in front of you, you can’t use a gun to stop them.  You can call 911, and start taking stuff out of his car and putting it back in your garage, but no guns!

Again, better to have a big loud dog.