Gun safety programs do not prevent children from handling firearms, study finds

May 15, 2018, Rutgers University

Children who participate in gun safety programs often ignore what they learned when encountering a real firearm, according to a Rutgers School of Nursing study.

The report, published recently in Health Promotion Practice, reviewed 10 studies on the effectiveness of strategies for teaching gun to children ages 4 to 9. The researchers found such programs do not reduce the likelihood that children will handle guns when they are unsupervised, that boys are more likely than girls to ignore gun-safety rules and that few studies exist of gun-safety programs for children beyond the fourth grade.

Included among the findings from previous studies is that 85 percent of gun-owning parents did not practice safe gun storage and 72 percent believed their young children could differentiate a toy gun from a real gun.

The gun safety training approaches studied included "just say no" in which authority figures tell children to stay away from guns; skills-building approaches, which teach children skills to resist touching guns; and knowledge-based programs in which children are provided with video or printed material about gun safety.

"Most of the studies evaluated knowledge-based learning in which children sit in a classroom and are shown videos or handed papers with activities or information to teach them rules to follow if they should come across a gun," said study co-author Cheryl Holly, a professor at Rutgers School of Nursing. "The studies found that even children who initially followed the rules after the training did not use the safety skills they learned weeks later when placed in a room with a nonfunctional gun. This leads us to question if young children can retain the gun-safety skills they learn over time."

Holly, co-director of the Northeast Institute for Evidence Synthesis and Translation, based at the School of Nursing, is a resident of Sandy Hook, Connecticut. She was prompted to study gun violence after the elementary school shooting in her community.

"We wanted to look at from the perspective of children who were accessing guns in their homes and accidentally shooting themselves, parents and siblings," she said. "We wanted to see what educational strategies teachers and communities are using to teach gun safety to children, and how effective they really are."

Gun safety training is essential, Holly said, because children in the United States have more access to guns than those in other developed countries and because most unintentional shooting deaths by children occur in their homes or at the residence of a friend or relative. Firearm injuries are the third-leading cause of death for all children aged 1 to 17 and are responsible for thousands of children being treated for open wounds, fractures and brain and spinal injuries. In addition, children who witness firearm injury can experience psychological effects, such as fear, anxiety and elevated stress.

"Although programs that used active learning strategies, such as modeling, simulation or feedback, were slightly more effective at teaching skills than programs that handed out literature, the majority still failed to teach the children to put what they learned into practice," said Sallie Porter, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, who co-authored the study with Holly. "Children are very curious—especially about things that they have been warned not to handle."

Mary Kamienski, a professor at the School of Nursing, and alumna Aubrianne Lim, a registered nurse at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, also contributed to the study.

The researchers concluded that safe gun storage is the best way to protect children and adolescents from gun injuries. Their advice: Lock the guns up and make sure children cannot get the key or learn the access code, or better yet have a gun free-home.

"Gun safety education has value, but parents should not be complacent and feel comfortable that skills training alone will truly prevent their child from handling a gun," Porter said. "Parents often overestimate their 's cognitive abilities and underestimate their physical abilities. They are wrong to think that their 4-year-old can't climb to reach the gun safe or that their child is developmentally mature enough to know not to handle a gun."

Explore further: Survey: More than half of US gun owners do not safely store their guns

More information: Cheryl Holly et al, School-Based and Community-Based Gun Safety Educational Strategies for Injury Prevention, Health Promotion Practice (2018). DOI: 10.1177/1524839918774571

Related Stories

Survey: More than half of US gun owners do not safely store their guns

February 22, 2018
More than half of gun owners do not safely store all their guns, according to a new survey of 1,444 U.S. gun owners conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Gun, fire, motor vehicle safety practices linked to parents' depressive symptoms

January 7, 2016
AU School of Public Affairs assistant professor Taryn Morrissey conducted a study that links parental depression to increased safety risks for their children. Her article on the findings, 'Parents' Depressive Symptoms and ...

Kids with easy access to firearms are more likely to be depressed

March 12, 2018
Easy access to a gun at home is bad for a child's mental health, particularly for girls —bad enough, according to a new examination of a study of American schoolchildren from the 1990s, to suggest parents think carefully ...

Study identifies effective parenting strategies to reduce disruptive behavior in children

March 20, 2018
Most parenting programs aim to teach parents how to reduce their children's disruptive behavior. New research looked at more than 150 studies of these programs, finding differences in what works best according to whether ...

Home alone: Parents more confident tweens will avoid fire, storms than guns

July 11, 2016
Parents are more confident their pre-teen child would know what to do if there were a house fire or tornado than whether the child would avoid playing with guns if home alone, a new national poll says.

Recommended for you

Pregnancy drug DES might have triggered ADHD in the grandchildren of women who used it

May 21, 2018
A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported elevated odds for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the grandchildren ...

Age-related racial disparity in suicide rates among US youth

May 21, 2018
New research suggests the suicide rate is roughly two times higher for black children ages 5-12 compared with white children of the same age group. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), appears ...

One in 10 parents say their child has gotten sick from spoiled or contaminated food

May 21, 2018
No parent wants to come home from a picnic or restaurant with a little one whose stomachache turns into much worse.

Infant growth patterns affected by type of protein consumed

May 14, 2018
A new study by CU School of Medicine researchers has determined that choices of protein intake from solid foods has a significant impact on infant growth during the first year of life.

Parents say intense gun violence in PG-13 movies appropriate for teens 15 and older

May 14, 2018
Parents are more willing to let their children see PG-13 movies with intense gun violence when the violence appears to be "justified," used in defense of a loved one or for self-protection, than when it has no socially redeeming ...

Study finds prenatal marijuana use can affect infant size, behavior

May 10, 2018
Smoking during pregnancy has well-documented negative effects on birth weight in infants and is linked to several childhood health problems. Now, researchers at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions have ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JQPublic
not rated yet May 15, 2018
My sons started shooting with me when they were 9 years old. They started with bolt action .22 rifles and by the time they were 12 years old one was shooting .22 pistol and the other shot a 9mm pistol with me at IDPA matches. I trained them both in proper gun handling. They never had a problem with safe gun handling and are excellent shots with rifle, pistol, and shotgun.

The fact that they were able to shoot their own firearms any time we went to the range stopped them from being "those" kids that tried to sneak into the closet where the guns were kept to play around with them. They knew if they did want to handle the guns away from the range to just come to me and we would open up the safes and go over them. I have a number of collectable firearms with interesting markings. They really never did ask though. They knew the guns were for the range and that is where
Anonym472031
not rated yet May 15, 2018
This is why all effective gun safety programs include handling of real firearms.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.