Take this story for instance. An 8 year old finds his parents' shotgun, grabs it, and goes running into the kitchen yelling "gun, gun, gun!" It's too heavy and he drops it. Shotguns are not drop safe and as a result it discharged. The boys little sister gets a pellet through the ear (rather than the brain pan, thank Freyja!)
The parents claim the gun was stored in a locked closet. Obviously not. That's strike one. They didn't teach their kids that there are guns in the house and severe punishment will follow touching them. Strike two. They haven't taught their children the basic elements of gun safety. Strike three.
When I was five years old I'd already been shooting. My grandfather kept a couple of loaded guns around the the house. For a while a shotgun was propped up beside the front door of our house.
I never touched a gun without permission. Do you know why? Because I was terrified of getting whipped with a leather belt. I can't really say I comprehended the danger of the gun (it had never been demonstrated to me the way the danger of a circular saw had...I saw what they could do frequently and was a little afraid of them) but I knew bad things would happen if I messed with it.
This incident didn't happen because someone had a gun in the house. It happened because parents left a dangerous object within reach of a child and gave that child no guidance as to how to deal with the situation. This kid could have just as easily set the house on fire playing with matches or poured his sister a glass of drain cleaner to drink.
I think keeping a gun unloaded is useless for a self defense tool so I'm not about to advocate that. However, if it's 'locked up,' confirm that on a regular basis, and don't lock it somewhere you have to go regularly or you'll get lazy with the lock. A good way to safely store a loaded shotgun in a closet out of reach of children is to get a couple of these and hang it above the closet door. Most people won't even see it and children won't be able to reach it.
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