By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the tragic deaths of two young children, Terrell Mayes (age 3) and Nizzel George (age 5) by shooting. Both shootings occurred within six months of each other and within 20 blocks of one another’s homes. Both children were inside their homes, the latest victim, George, was asleep on his grandmother’s couch when, it’s reported, a single bullet fired from outside the home struck and killed the boy. Yesterday, arrests were made in that shooting and it may come as some surprise that the two people being charged in Hennepin County in conjunction with the shooting are children themselves.

The worst part is that deaths like these are not the exception but appear to be the rule, according to Protect Minnesota whose site states that, “between two and three Minnesota children age 14 and under are killed or injured by gunfire every week.”

So what can we do to keep our kids safe, when incidents like these illustrate that our children may not even be safe in their own homes?

Protect Minnesota says, “One of the best ways we can ensure the safety of our children from guns is to ensure that gun owners practice safe storage techniques.”

Stolen guns in the hands of our youth

A 2005 report, co-authored by the Initiative for Violence-Free Families and Citizens for a Safer Minnesota Education Fund, called Stolen Guns – Street Guns: A Report on Gun Theft in Hennepin County (where these recent child deaths occurred), echoes these sentiments, “Nearly one gun is stolen in Hennepin County every day. Data from local police departments indicated that most guns reported stolen were not secured in any way. Of those that were locked, most were still easy targets for thieves. Glass gun cabinets, apartment storage lockers and padlocks proved to be an ineffective means of gun storage.”

Protect Minnesota reports that a recent survey indicated 44.7% of Minnesota households contain firearms. While most gun owners keep their weapons locked and unloaded, 3.4% of all Minnesota households contain loaded firearms and 2.3% contain locked and unloaded firearms.

While these percentages may seem low, it’s important to note an estimated 19,770 Minnesota children were found in this same survey to be living in households containing unlocked and loaded guns. Not only is this a very unnecessary and dangerous risk to take with the lives of the children in these homes but it also leaves any visiting children at risk, not to mention the dangers of these weapons falling into the hands of young thieves.

And it’s not just in Minnesota, a June 2007 article in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) journal Pediatrics noted that, “Few families reported safe firearm storage.”

Safe Storage – What is it?

Safe storage practices (keeping guns unloaded and locked away for safety, with the ammunition locked in a separate place) have been proven to help prevent unintentional shootings and suicide attempts, as well as to deter theft. According to the 2005 Stolen Guns, Street Guns report, 78% of the stolen guns in Hennepin County were completely unlocked.

New research shows that the majority of parents who believed their children did not know where their guns were stored, were wrong. Children were not only well aware of these hiding places but some were also aware of where keys were hidden. This is why it‘s important to make sure your children (no matter what their age) are not allowed to watch while you secure a firearm.

Safe Storage can also prevent suicides

Protect Minnesota reports that 73% percent of gun deaths are suicides and that the risk of teen suicide is four to ten times higher in homes with guns, than in homes without them.

The AAP states, “The safest home is a home without guns,” but if you are going to own one, please do so responsibly and with the safety of not only your own children, but the children in our community in mind. You can help prevent unnecessary casualties like the deaths of these two toddlers by being vigilant in securing and storing your guns.

If you’d like more ideas about Household Firearm Safety visit Kids Health or the National Rifle Association (NRA) Parent’s Guide to Gun Safety for more tips on how to keep your kids safe.