Fort Worth, Texas,
09:38 AM

Guns at Christmas. What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.

As a gun owner, Daniel Guzman, M.D., understands what a rite of passage going hunting is for many kids in Texas.

As an emergency room physician, Dr. Guzman also knows the importance of gun safety.

Dr. Guzman has seen serious, even deadly consequences, as a result of a child shot with a BB or pellet gun.

From January 2016 to the end of November in 2019, 214 children have been seen at Cook Children’s because of firearm injuries.

During that time frame, 27 children were injured by a handgun, 10 from a rifle, shotgun or larger firearm and 177 others were harmed by “other or unspecified firearms, which includes airguns and BB guns.

Firearm Injuries by Calendar Year and Age Group

Year 0-4 Years 5-9 Years 10-14 Years 15+ Years Total
2016 6 13 31 13 63
2017 8 15 24 16 63
2018 5 3 28 15 51
2019 (January - November) 6 6 17 8 37
Total 25 37 100 52 214

Over his 16-year emergency room career, Dr. Guzman has cared for three children who died from BB/pellet firearm injuries to the chest.

Dr. Guzman said that "basic BB guns like a Red Ryder can fire up to 450 feet/second, and pellet guns can fire up to 1300 feet/second, which is faster than most handguns."

Dr. Guzman stated, "that studies have shown that it only takes 331 feet/second to penetrate the skin, so it is easy to see why injuries and deaths can occur from such basic firearms. Teaching children to respect firearms is important. Still, more importantly, parental supervision is important, as well as appropriately storing all firearms is key to keeping our children safe from unintentional injuries."

Even some NERF guns can harm a child. Many of these guns are made to shoot from as far away as 100 feet. If a child holds the Nerf gun too close, the power of the dart could hurt a child.

"Many children have been harmed by what's called a 'toy gun,'" Dr. Guzman said. "If you are going to have guns in the house, it's important to teach children to respect the guns. It can save a life and teach children to have gun safety etiquette as they get older."

With the holidays and gift-giving right around the corner, Dr. Guzman wants to get the word out about gun safety as more firearms will find their way into people's homes.

Buying a Gun for Your Child

Giving guns as gifts, especially BB and pellet guns, is a common occurrence in states like Texas.

In fact, the vast majority of us grew up with these types of firearms and never would think of them as "deadly." But the truth is, they can cause severe injury and death.

Firearm Injuries by Calendar Year and Outcome

Year Non-Fatal Fatal Total
2016 63 0 63
2017 61 2 63
2018 51 0 51
2019 (January-November) 33 4 37
Total 208 6 214

Unfortunately, Dr Guzman has seen many unintentional injuries related to BB and pellet guns. Within the last two years he has seen injuries to the face and eye causing debilitating injuries. One child lost vision in one eye from being accidentally shot by a friend with a BB gun.

“It is important to view these firearms as real threats to our children and be vigilant about safety when we have any type of firearm in the home,” Dr Guzman explains.

In Texas, minors can't buy guns. It's illegal to sell a long gun (rifles) to anyone under 18 and to sell handguns to anyone under 21.

However, it's not illegal to give a gun to a minor with parental permission.

"I know this is a divisive issue for many people," Dr. Guzman said. "But my main concern is the safety of children. If you do buy a gun for your younger child, make sure they are mature enough to handle the firearm. And, if you are taking the gun out for hunting or recreation, always travel with your child. Never let them go alone."

Some helpful tips for gun safety include:

  • Start with a hunter's safety course for children to learn the basics of firearm handling.
  • When you aren't using a gun, store the gun unloaded, and locked up. Lock up the bullets separately and keep control of the keys.
  • Teach your child to assume a gun is always loaded.
  • Never point a gun at someone or yourself.
  • Set a good example with your own gun handling practices. For instance, don't leave a gun out in the open.

Steps to Protect Your Child

"It won't happen to us" is a common theme among children and accidental injuries such as gun shootings.

However, the numbers tell a different story. In 2017, there were at least 26 children ages 0-11 in the state of Texas alone that were accidentally killed because a gun was not safely locked away.

One out of every three homes with children in the U.S. has a gun. In Texas, 36% of adults have a household firearm, and over 199,000 children currently live with unlocked, loaded firearms in their homes.

Firearm Injuries by Calendar Year and Gun Type

Year Handgun Rifle, Shotgun or Larger Firearm Other or unspecified firearm (includes BB guns and flare gun) Total
2016 5 0 58 63
2017 10 4 49 63
2018 6 3 42 51
2019 (January-November) 6 3 28 37
Total 27 10 177 214

Dr. Guzman encourages you to talk to the parents of your child's friends if they have guns in their homes and asked how they are stored. And if asked about your own guns, don't be offended.

Other tips from Dr. Guzman include:

Safe Children

  • Ask the parents of your child’s friends if they have guns in their homes and how they are stored.
  • If you are asked about your guns, don’t be offended.

Safe Play

If your child sees a gun, teach them to:

  • Stop
  • Don't touch
  • Run away
  • Tell a grownup

Safe Storage

  • Store firearms unloaded in locked locations, out of reach of children.
  • Use trigger locks and gun boxes.
  • Secure ammunition separately.
  • Hide gun safe and trigger lock keys.
  • Keep unlocked guns in your possession.
  • Make sure all guns are equipped with effective, child-resistant gun locks.
  • If a visitor has a gun in a backpack, briefcase, handbag, or unlocked car, provide them with a locked place to keep it when your home.

Another way to easily remember and share with family and friends is what Dr. Guzman coined the "3T's of firearm safety and children.

Talk – to your family, friends, and neighbors about the importance of firearm safety to keep our children safe

Teach – your children how to respond if they encounter an unsecured firearm

Take – personal responsibility to store your firearms appropriately to keep ALL our children safe

And finally, Dr. Guzman emphasizes, "if you are going to purchase a firearm this Christmas- remember to purchase a storage device along with that firearm to keep it from being found and mishandled by our children, so we can keep our holiday fun, festive and SAFE!"

*Source for Cook Children's Stats: Cook Children's Medical Center Meditech and Epic Claims Data. Inclusion Criteria: Encounter with any ICD-10 External Cause Code of: U01.4, W32-W34, X72-X74, X93-X95, Y22-Y24, or Y35.0

AIM For Safety 

Gun awareness and gun safety are a passion for Dr. Guzman. He is the medical director of the Aim for Safety program at Cook Children's, which promotes firearm safety for children. The program is a multi-step interactive experience that provides parental awareness and teaches children the steps they should take when they encounter a firearm.

“Aim for Safety is advocating gun safety and gun safety only,” Dr. Guzman said. “The information we provide is to aid gun owners on how to not only protect their children, but also everyone who enters their homes.”

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