So you’ve decided that you need to have a gun in your house for home defense. As a concerned parent, you want to be able to protect your family from any external threat, but you also want to keep them safe from accidents.
How do you balance these two concerns?
As a gun owner, a father, and a grandfather, I was faced with the exact same question you are facing right now: How do I keep a gun in my home without endangering my children? I’m not a weapons expert by any means, but I have had training in risk management and safety precautions in my job as an industrial training professional, and those skills can be applied just as easily in the home. So I’ll tell you how I approached the issue.
Obviously, the specific measures I take may not apply to you; I don’t know enough about the specifics of your situation to be able to give you direct advice. All I can do is give you guidance on how to approach gun safety, and provide you with some resources for further information.
First of all, I want to make clear that we are talking about keeping a gun in the house for home defense. That sounds a little redundant, but it is important to understand that I’m not talking about guns for hunting or sporting purposes, or even a gun you’re going to carry for personal defense. Safe storage for these weapons is pretty straight forward. As recommended by multiple sources, keep the gun unloaded, locked up, and the ammunition locked up separately.
But home defense is a different matter. When the freelance wealth redistribution technician politely kicks down your door, he isn’t going to wait patiently while you run to one room, unlock the safe, extract your gun, run to a second room, unlock the safe, pull out the ammunition, and load the gun, and then return to negotiate the amount of redistribution he wants you to contribute.
He’s a busy man on a tight schedule.
If you are going to store your home defense weapon in this manner, then save yourself some money and don’t buy one; it won’t be available when you need it and will quite probably wind up with the bad guy. I’ll talk about alternative home security measures in a future post.
This conflict between safe storage and accessibility is the reason I chose not to have a gun in my home while my children were small.
I was raised in a home with guns. My dad liked to collect unusual guns, and carried one for personal protection. He also had a small collection of rifles and shotguns acquired over the years. He kept a small .22 derringer in his checkbook at all times. My mother often carried a small .22 in her purse as well.
As kids, we knew there were guns in the house; we also knew that if we messed with any of them, the consequences would be rapid, painful, and significant. I don’t want to get into the corporal punishment debate, but the knowledge of the severe consequences was enough to reign in our curiosity.
We knew in general where the guns were kept. They were in my parent’s bedroom, which was always locked when they weren’t in there. The lock was a standard interior door lock, easy to pick with a clothes hanger, so the security was more symbolic than real, but that symbol stood for the punishment that again would be painful, so we stayed away.
Despite being raised around guns and being comfortable with them, as I raised my kids, I decided not to keep a gun in the house until they were older. As I discussed in the first post in this series, I believed the risk of an accident outweighed the need for defense. However, as my kids grew older and more responsible, my evaluation changed, and I began to bring guns into the house. First was a handgun for self defense, then a .22 rifle for target shooting and varmint control. Finally, I got a shotgun for home defense.
Storage on the first two was easy. The rifle is kept unloaded, with a trigger lock installed. My carry gun is kept on me until I change for bed, at which point it is locked into a gun safe right next to my nightstand. In fact, the picture above is the gun safe I use. The indentations are to guide your fingers to buttons so you can tap a code to open the safe silently. I chose this safe because I knew that my kids couldn’t open it, not just because they wouldn’t know the sequence to tap, but because they couldn’t reach the buttons in the first place.
The shotgun is trickier. In order for it to be useful, it has to be accessible, so I had to create a storage solution that kept the shotgun safe, yet maintained it accessible.
Before I bought the shotgun, I used principles from industrial safety to make a plan for safe storage. In an industrial environment, there are three layers of protection. The top layer is engineered controls, features built in to the equipment or added to it to keep the user safe from the hazard. For example, building an exhaust vent to remove toxic gases from the work area would be an engineered control. The next level is administrative controls. These are procedures and policies put in place to keep you away from the hazard. Finally, we use work practices and protective gear to protect us from the hazard if we must be around it.
So let’s take a look at each level, and see how it relates to gun storage.
A safety prevents the gun from firing when the trigger is pulled, so the shotgun I bought had to have a safety, and it did. By choosing a shotgun, I made it impossible for a small child to shoot themselves as they couldn’t be in front of the muzzle and reach the trigger at the same time. My storage location was specifically chosen to be out of reach for small children, but easily accessible by me. I also chose a storage location that was out of the way, as far as a small child was concerned. It is in an area where they do not have access unless I’m with them.
These are all factors that protect the child from my gun without them or me having to do anything.
I keep the shotgun loaded, but without a shell chambered. If the trigger is pulled and the safety fails, nothing happens. I have to rack the slide before the gun is ready to fire. To me, the additional second delay before being ready to shoot is worth the gain in safety. I store the gun with the safety on. The room where the gun is kept is locked when there are children in the house. My grandkids have been taught that the room is off limits if I am not with them and that rule is enforced without fail. My kids know there are loaded guns in the house, and know exactly where they are so they can keep their kids away from them. I don’t show my grandkids my shotgun, and I don’t let them know it even exists.
These are all things I have to do to keep the kids safe from my gun. They require action on my part.
Protective Equipment/Work Practices
A couple of my grandkids have watched me shoot, primarily with a bow; they still don’t like the loud noise of a gun. When they are around, I teach them safe practices with a fire arm, including drilling them on the four rules of gun safety, as well as the actions to take if they find a gun.
The four rules are:
- A gun is always loaded.
- Never touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- Never point the gun at anything you are not ready to destroy.
- Always know what is behind your target.
These rules, if followed religiously, will prevent you from having an accident that could cause somebody to get hurt.
If they find a gun, even if it is one of mine, they are to:
- Don’t touch!
- Leave the area!
- Tell an adult!
By teaching them how to handle a gun safely, and what to do if they find one, I am reducing the chances that they might accidentally hurt themselves or somebody else.
By taking this multi-tiered approach to safety, I’ve done everything I can to reduce the chances of them finding my gun and accidentally hurting themselves or somebody else, while at the same time making sure the gun is accessible should I need it.
Again, I want to stress that my answers are provided not as advice, but as an example of one potential approach to gun storage and home defense. You should contact your local law enforcement for more advice, including the legal requirements for having and storing a gun in your home. Different states have different regulations that you will have to follow and it would be impossible for me to cover them all here. Additionally, the NRA has extensive information on gun safety and children.
Planning ahead and knowing what your storage plans will be is an essential first step in buying a gun for home defense. If this sounds like too much work for you, or you don’t like the risks involved, even when controlled as much as possible, then you shouldn’t have a gun in your home. Look into some alternative home defense measures.
Next week, I’ll cover how to use your gun safely, and then I’ll finish up this series the following week with alternatives to having a gun in your home.
Related Posts, or ones I just like a lot!
Citizens or Subjects: What Role will your Children Play?
A Deeper Discussion of Gun Safety
Find more of me on the web!