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On average, every year, more than 16,000 individuals in the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds. The unsafe storage of firearms in the home is a huge safety issue occurring in the United States.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, has estimated that 31% of accidental deaths caused by firearms could be prevented by the addition of two devices, a child-proof safety lock and a loading indicator. Research has even shown that laws requiring use of gun locks are effective at preventing suicides and saving lives.

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Under the Maryland Annotated Code, Criminal Law, Article 4 Section 104, “it is unlawful for any person to store or leave a loaded firearm in a location where the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised child would gain access to the firearm. For safety purposes, the stored firearm should be unloaded and the use of a trigger lock is recommended.”

Local law enforcement have partnered with Project Child Safe, which is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting firearms safety among firearms owners. There are educational messages and free firearm safety kits, which include a cable-style gun-locking device, as well as a brochure which discusses safe handling and secure storage guidelines. Please call your local law enforcement agency to inquire about gun-locks.

Talking to kids about gun safety

The majority of unintentional shooting deaths involve people under 24, who are most often shot by someone else, usually someone their own age. So, it is very important to teach kids to follow these rules if they come in contact with a gun:

· Stop what you’re doing.

· Do not touch the gun.

· Leave the area where the gun is.

· Tell an adult right away.

If there is a gun in your home

Many kids are raised with guns in the home, particularly if hunting is a part of family recreation. If you keep a gun in the home, it's important to teach your kids to act in a safe and responsible way around it.

To ensure the safest environment for your family:

· Take the ammunition out of the gun.

· Lock the gun and keep it out of reach of kids. Hiding the gun is not enough.

· Lock the ammunition and store it apart from the gun.

· Store the keys for the gun and the ammunition in a different area from where you store household keys. Keep the keys out of reach of children.

· Lock up gun-cleaning supplies, which are often poisonous.

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· When handling or cleaning a gun, adults should never leave the gun unattended.

There are several online resources available for families to learn more about firearm safety. Please visit www.projectchildsafe.org.

Lauren Harrison is a health educator with the Carroll County Health Department.

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