Firearms in the home: Protecting children from gun violence this summerWritten by Emily Arismendy
Gun Violence in the United States
Gun violence is a pressing issue in American society, impacting communities, families, and individuals across the nation. While much attention is often focused on gun violence in schools, it’s essential to recognize that the effects of such violence extend far beyond the classroom walls. Children in the United States, both as direct victims and witnesses, bear the heavy burden of trauma and its lasting consequences.
There is no doubt that there are alarming statistics about gun violence in this country. In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death among children ages 19 and younger in the Unites States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Less children died due to illness/disease and car accidents than guns.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, gun violence claimed the lives of 44,000 people in 2022. Among those lives lost were children, as well as parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends. Grief struck communities, leaving them forever changed. No matter what stance one chooses to take on gun control, the undeniable fact is that innocent people are dying.
Firearms and domestic violence
As school ends, some kids’ access to safe adults is also over until the school year begins again. It’s important at this time to shift our attention to gun violence at home.
Summer brings unique family stressors like financial pressures, increased time together, and disrupted routines. These factors can worsen existing tensions within relationships and contribute to an increase in domestic violence incidents. Factors such as the heat, increased alcohol consumption, and community interaction during outdoor events can also escalate relationship conflicts during the summer.
Four-in-ten U.S. adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 30% who say they personally own one, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2021. Additionally, 4.6 million children in the United States live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, and most children ages 5-14 know where the firearm is stored, according to the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.
Domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to end in death than assaults with other weapons or physical harm. While it is true that children face the risk of gun violence at school, they also face the risk of death in their own homes at the hands of someone they thought they could trust. Everytown research reports that nearly 3 in 4 children and teens killed in mass shootings died in an incident connected to domestic violence. Sometimes domestic violence incidents involving firearms can be characterized as a mass shooting if there are four or more victims.
And not only lawmakers refusing to pass gun laws, but court rulings are also making it easier for abusers to keep their firearms. In January, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment allows people under protective orders for committing domestic violence to keep their guns. In 2021 alone, 127 women in Texas were murdered by their male intimate partners with firearms, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence. Not only is this ruling extremely dangerous, but the vast majority of Americans disagree with this stance. In fact, 81% of Americans support legislation that helps keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.
Firearms and child abuse
Firearms can play a significant role in cases of child abuse, both as tools of intimidation and as direct causes of harm. While there are no specific statistics on firearm involvement in child abuse cases, it is important to acknowledge the potential risks and impact of firearms in such situations.
The presence of firearms in households where child abuse occurs can escalate the severity and danger of the abuse. It can create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for both the child and other family members.
In cases of extreme abuse, firearms may be used to inflict fatal injuries on children. Tragically, children who are victims of abuse may be at higher risk of being subjected to lethal violence if firearms are accessible within the household.
Abusers may use firearms as a means of control, using the threat of violence to manipulate and coerce children into compliance. The presence of firearms can worsen the power dynamics within an abusive relationship, leaving children feeling trapped and powerless.
In some cases, children may gain access to firearms within the household, leading to accidental shootings or intentional acts of violence. Improper storage, lack of gun safety education, and easy accessibility increase the risk of children mishandling firearms, resulting in severe injuries or fatalities.
Children who experience abuse may also be at higher risk of suicidal ideation or self-harm. Access to firearms in the home amplifies the potential for impulsive actions, as firearms are often the most lethal means of self-inflicted harm.
Addressing the issue
To mitigate the risks associated with firearms in cases of child abuse, several preventive measures can be considered:
- Safe firearm storage: Promoting safe firearm storage practices, such as securely locking firearms and storing ammunition separately, can help prevent unintended access by children or abusers.
- Education and awareness: Increasing public awareness about the intersection of firearms and child abuse is crucial. Providing resources, training, and education on recognizing signs of abuse and addressing firearm safety can help protect vulnerable children.
- Reporting and intervention: Encouraging reporting of suspected child abuse and ensuring intervention measures are in place is essential.
- Support for survivors: Providing comprehensive support services for child abuse victims, including trauma-informed counseling, access to safe shelters, and legal advocacy, is vital for their healing and recovery.
At The SAFE Alliance, we have over 30 programs with many of them focusing on tackling abuse before it begins. Our Strong Start program offers parenting classes so that parents understand healthier methods to discipline their children. The Expect Respect program goes into schools to educate students on the importance of healthy relationships and how to spot the warning signs of abuse. Planet SAFE provides a secure way for children to visit their non-custodial parents. We also have our shelters so that we can provide a safe place for survivors of abuse so that they no longer have to stay in a home where their abuser has a firearm. While we can’t stop gun violence in this country, we can provide resources in hopes of saving more lives.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind, please reach out to our 24 hour SAFEline by phone at 512.267.SAFE (7233), by text at 737.888.7233, or chat at safeaustin.org/chat. Visit our website at safeaustin.org for more information about the educational resources we offer.