THE BLOG
06/30/2014 03:43 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2014

With More Kids Playing at Home During Summer, Gun Safety Must Be a Top Priority

Blend Images - Mike Kemp via Getty Images

School's out for summer, and kids and parents everywhere are ready for barbecues, beach trips, and Fourth of July fireworks. Summer also means more time spent playing at home. As more than two million American children live in homes with unsecured guns, this summer Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety are highlighting the potential for danger -- and getting the word out about what parents and policymakers alike can do to help keep kids safe.

A Harvard survey showed that 70 percent of kids under age 10 knew where their parents stored their guns, even when they were hidden. When curious kids and their siblings or friends find those guns, the results can be tragic. Today, Everytown and Moms Demand Action published an in-depth look at accidental child gun deaths over a 12-month period. Here are two key findings:

First, there were more accidents due to child access to guns than we originally thought. The federal data significantly undercount the number of kids killed in accidental shootings. According to the CDC, an average of 62 children age 14 and under were killed each year between 2007 and 2011. For the period we studied, we found 61 percent more than that.

Second, we found that most of these tragedies were preventable. The story behind each one of them is heartbreaking. A 2-year-old taking a loaded handgun from a living room table and shooting and killing himself, just hours after Christmas dinner. A 4-year-old finding a loaded pistol at his aunt's house, and fatally shooting himself as his 7-year-old brother looked on.

What are the simple, common-sense steps we can take to save children's lives?

Our polling finds that 86 percent of Americans - and 77 percent of gun owners -- agree that parents with guns in their homes should be required to keep them locked and unloaded. If you're a gun owner, store your gun locked and unloaded, and store and lock your ammunition separately. It's very simple: if more gun owners take these steps, fewer children will die.

If you're a parent, start the conversation about gun safety. Ask your friends and family members if their guns are stored safely. Ask the parents of your children's friends the same thing. Our polling also finds that 82 percent of Americans -- including 81 percent of gun-owners -- favor allowing law enforcement to charge adult gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to a negligently stored gun and death or serious injury occurs. More states can enact laws to deter irresponsible firearm storage, and thus prevent children from accessing unsecured guns.

Child Access Prevention laws are on the books in 28 states and the District of Columbia. There's evidence that some of these laws can reduce the number of children killed or injured in gun accidents. Drunk driving laws -- which have been found to reduce recidivism and deter drunk driving more broadly -- are a good point of comparison. An unsecured gun should be treated as a case of negligence, and the adult owner who fails to store it safely should face criminal charges.
Congress should fund public health research to learn more about unintentional child gun deaths and develop effective educational materials for promoting responsible gun storage.

Also, doctors should be allowed to speak to patients and parents about gun safety - and not be muzzled by the gun lobby. State legislators in at least 13 states have introduced laws that would restrict how doctors speak to their patients about gun ownership. This despite the fact 73 percent of the public - and 72 percent of gun owners - believe that doctors and teachers should be allowed to educate parents about responsible gun storage. Americans should continue to fight any attempt to put the gun lobby's ideology ahead of public health and safety.

We can continue to respect the rights of lawful gun owners while protecting our children from danger. With the right to keep and bear arms come responsibilities. For the sake of our kids, adults should store their guns securely - and this summer, take the opportunity to encourage their families, friends, and neighbors to do the same.