Firearms are the second leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, after car crashes. One in three U.S. homes where kids live have a firearm, with 43% reporting that the firearm is kept unlocked and loaded.

Seattle Children’s offers this tip sheet (PDF) for providers on counseling families about firearms.  Many families feel comfortable discussing firearm safety with their child’s pediatrician when the conversation is approached with neutrality, privacy, respect and confidence.

Our tip sheet suggests:

  1. Make it a practice to screen all families about access to firearms.
  2. Approach the conversation around safe firearm storage just like any other injury prevention topic (e.g., car seats, bike helmets, life jackets) and provide context for your questions and recommendations.
    1. Focus on kids being smart and curious (but not emotional) and avoid labels.
    2. Start with an open-ended question to engage safety interest and encourage dialogue.
    3. Firearm ownership may be due to long-standing beliefs and values; remember everyone will come with different experiences.
    4. Remind families that information is confidential unless there is an immediate emergency.
  3. Assess to firearms in each relevant household (e.g., a teen may spend time in more than one parent’s or relative’s household).
    1. Ask explicitly if firearms in the home are safely stored (i.e., locked up, unloaded, ammunition stored separately). Ask parents/caregivers to consider if firearms are in other homes where their child or teen spends time.
      1. Example: “We understand many households have firearms and I’d like to talk about options for storing firearms to help keep your kids safe.”
      2. Example: “Tell me about the firearms in your home.”
    2. Reminder that hidden or “off-limits” is not safe.
    3. You can share your own family rules as a conversation starter.
    4. If quick access to the firearm is important, discuss safe storage options that meet this requirement.
    5. Encourage parents and caregivers to ask about firearm storage in the homes that their kids visit.
  4. Temporarily removing firearms from the home is encouraged if a family member is depressed, suicidal or abusing drugs or alcohol.
    1. Sympathize with those who find the option of living without a firearm at home, even temporarily, very difficult.


Tip sheet for providers