Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Gun Safety - A Surprising Way To Broach The Subject

Scott Spencer, MD, MPH
January 10, 2018 09:30AM

Last month, we invited a volunteer speaker for the Be SMART campaign ( to speak at Pediatric Associates of the Northwest (PANW) about childhood gun violence and gun safety. It was an incredibly powerful presentation.  The speaker was the mother of one of our own PANW patients. She told us some staggering statistics on childhood gun violence:

Nearly one child a day in the United States unintentionally shoots themselves or someone else.  And, nearly 500 children die each year from gun-related suicides.  These childhood firearm injuries or deaths are mostly preventable with the right gun storage methods.  Interestingly, one of the biggest messages from her talk wasn’t about how to store the guns themselves. It was about how to TALK to other people about storing their guns.  

Now, she admitted that talking about gun safety with your child’s friends and family may be awkward.  And I agree.   Even talking with parents in the clinic about gun safety is awkward. But she gave us a key phrase that I have started to use with parents and you can use yourself when concerned about gun safety.  She suggested asking, “If you own a gun, how is it stored?” when starting off a conversation. She said the natural instinct is to ask “Do you own a gun?” or “Do you have a gun in the house?” but the problem with that is, if the person says yes, they may already feel that the followup question is something bad or judgmental about gun ownership.  This can shut conversation down. Leading with the storage question is much more open ended and really focuses on safety, not gun ownership.   It is amazing how using this phrase has opened up great conversations with parents in the clinic - and at home with parents of my own children’s friends.  

Obviously, once you start this conversation, the next thing to know is how to properly store guns. Our speaker said that the guns should ideally be unloaded, the guns should be locked in a gun safe and the ammo should be locked up separately. In fact, our speaker is a gun owner herself.   She told us a story about when she was pregnant with her first child - the only thing on her baby registry was a Biometric Gun Safe, which uses high-tech hand recognition (she admits there are many other more affordable and appropriate gun safes, though).

Fortunately, all the information you need to know about gun safety recommendations can be found on the Be SMART website. There, you can learn what the acronym SMART means, watch videos on safe gun storage methods, learn more about how to talk about gun safety and even invite a speaker to your school, church or social gathering to further discuss the topic.

Please ask your loved ones and others around you about their gun storage methods. Use the phrase, “If you have a gun, how do you store it?” to keep our kids safer and the conversation lines open.