Like many Americans, I can't stop thinking about the recent school shootings in Newtown, CT. I continue to see the faces of the victims, so present in media coverage of the tragedy. And with every 5-, 6- and 7-year-old patient I see, I'm reminded of the fragility of life. I'm also reminded about gun safety and the need to teach parents that "the safest home for children and teens is one without guns."
We don't own guns, and I'm uncomfortable around guns. My youngest son has 12 stitches in his brow from a "scoping accident" on Thanksgiving Day several years ago. This accident occurred while he with his big brothers were shooting skeet at a friend's farm. That phone call alone was scary enough for m: "Mom there's been an accident," followed by iPhone pictures of my son's injury. Thankfully, we knew a friendly plastic surgeon who stitches people up at home on holidays!
I see no need for guns to be kept at home. If parents do have guns, they need to be locked in a gun safe. Despite this recommendation, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, "38 percent of American households own guns, and in households with children under the age of 18, many guns remained unlocked." The presence of guns in the home is known to increase the risk of death from suicide or homicide, so why do parents not worry?
I also know that teens, especially teenage boys with any history of anger issues, depression or mental illness, DO NOT need to have a gun, even a locked up gun, in the home. Unfortunately, I've had patients commit suicide using a gun that was locked away.
Adolescents are impulsive and don't always think clearly or see long-term implications for their actions. If there is a gun in the house, especially one with ammunition readily available, an impulsive teen may use that gun to harm themselves or others. In certain situations, I've counseled parents to remove any guns, even those that are locked, from their homes.
Long-term consequences from short-term decisions can be tragic. If you do have guns at home, make sure they're locked up and unloaded. Hide the key to the gun cabinet, as well, and only buy ammunition on your way to hunt. Better yet, if you have children, don't keep any guns in the house.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)