Grandmother unintentionally shoots 7-year-old grandson: Need for caregiver gun safety?

A grandmother mistakenly shot her 7-year-old grandson, thinking he was an intruder in the home. How do parents talk with other caregivers about gun safety? 

Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A 22-caliber revolver fired at a pistol range in Keene, N.H. A grandmother in Florida fired a similar firearm at her grandson, mistaking him for an intruder.

A grandmother in Town ’n' Country, Fla., accidentally shot her 7-year-old grandson early Tuesday, after thinking the boy was an intruder in her home. The boy is expected to survive, but the situation raises questions about what conversations parents might have with caregivers about guns in the house.

According to media reports, the grandmother was sleeping with the 7-year-old and his twin brother in bed, with a chair pushed up to the bedroom door, and her .22 caliber revolver at her bedside. 

When she heard the chair in front of the bedroom door shift, the grandmother assumed there was an intruder and shot into the dark, hitting her grandson. The boy was cared for by paramedics and taken to the local hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

First, I have compassion for this poor woman. A knee-jerk response to this case might be for parents to say that a grandparent or caregiver shouldn't have a gun in the house in the first place. This argument is supported with plenty of evidence that points to unfortunate incidents of unintentional shootings, especially when children discover a weapon unsecured.

However, with each family situation differing, the case of gun safety might require a more in depth conversation between parents and caregivers.  

I am the daughter of two rifle-owning parents. I have learned, along with my two brothers, to understand how to load and shoot a rifle. As the mom of a toddler, the idea of a gun safe in the home is still a little daunting. But I completely trust my parents' firm grasp on gun safety.

Talking with my mom about this sad story today, she is adamant, as is my dad, when their grandchildren visit, their guns are kept in a hidden, secured gun safe. 

My mom has admitted to sleeping with a 20-gauge shotgun by her bedside if she is alone in the house, but the shells for the firearm are on a high dresser away from the gun, at the ready. The gun is not kept loaded.

She says that even with a firearm, she admits she probably couldn't shoot an intruder. A few years ago, when someone began banging on my parents’ front door at 3 a.m. (not an easy task considering they live on 20 open acres of land in a semi-rural area), my mom thought first to call the police, rather than go for her gun.

When asked about this grandmother in Florida, she says that if her grandkids were staying with her and she was alone in the house, the gun would still be locked away. But if she felt afraid, she admits that whether to keep the gun locked up would be a tough question to answer. She says that the paramount of safety with grandkids is to have no gun present at all. 

For those interested in learning more about gun safety and discussing gun safety with caregivers, Safe Kids Worldwide offers a list of tips to help start the conversation.

And the National Rifle Association website includes this in its gun safety recommendations for parents:

Most states impose some form of legal duty on adults to take reasonable steps to deny access by children to dangerous substances or instruments. It is the individual gun owner's responsibility to understand and follow all laws regarding gun purchase, ownership, storage, transport, etc. Contact your state police and/or local police for information specific to your state.

Store guns so that they are not accessible to children and other unauthorized users. Gun shops sell a wide variety of safes, cases, and other security devices. While specific security measure may vary, a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the firearm and absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child.

If the grandmother in the Florida case felt compelled to carry both her grandsons and a gun with her to bed and block the door, the bigger question might be, is there a safer place for grandma to live? This too might not be an easy question to answer, but it might be the first consideration when thinking about keeping kids safe. 

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