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How to keep kids safe from firearms

Firearms in a storage locker.
Vermont passed a safe storage provision this year that requires gun owners to store firearms in a locked container if a child, or a prohibited person, could gain access to them.

Despite adults’ best efforts, guns can still show up in places that are supposed to be safe for children, like schools. Students at Hinesburg Community School found a loaded pistol on school grounds earlier this month. No one was hurt, but the incident shook up fears for parents, teachers and community members around gun safety.

Today on Vermont Edition, Seven Days education reporter Alison Novak shared details from her coverage of the Hinesburg incident. A Vermont Fish and Wildlife educator and a warden shared basic gun safety tips for people of all ages, including children. We learned about a 4-H shooting sports pilot program, called Guardians 4 Health, that teaches kids how to be gun safety ambassadors for other children. And a pediatrician at UVM Children’s Hospital talked about the importance of proper firearm storage.

Here are some key takeaways:

Firearm deaths are No. 1 cause of death for kids in the U.S.

Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care physician at UVM Children's Hospital and president of the Vermont Medical Society, said firearm fatalities became the No. 1 cause of death for kids in the U.S. in 2020. Pediatricians are increasingly talking about gun safety with patients as part of preventative care, but many weren't taught how to have these conversations in medical school. So, while it's relatively new, more doctors are being trained in how to have these conversations.

"When we talk about bike helmets and seat belts ... we should be saying, how are the firearms stored in the house? And we should be using presumptive language because half of Vermont households have firearms," she said. "And we should use a nonjudgmental tone ... and then we can proceed to have a conversation about storage of firearms."

Basic hunting safety lessons apply to all firearms

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department teaches hunter education, which includes firearm safety, to 3,000 to 4,000 kids and adults each year. Ali Thomas, the department's director of outreach, said the first firearm-safety rule is to treat every gun as though it is loaded. The second rule is muzzle control, which means to never have your gun pointed at anything that you don't intend to shoot. Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot. And finally, identify your target and what's behind it before pulling the trigger, she said.

Proper storage is critical

Dr. Bell said doctors and officials recommend firearms are stored locked up, unloaded with the ammunition locked and stored separately. There is good data showing this reduces firearm death and injury at home, she said.

Even when older kids are trained in proper firearm use, parents should be in charge of proper storage, Dr. Bell said. Parents often think their teenagers can be in charge of storing their own firearms, but this can lead to young people using firearms on themselves in suicide attempts during a temporary crisis.

New law, new resources

Vermont this year passed a safe storage provision that requires gun owners to store firearms in a locked container if a child, or a prohibited person, could gain access to them. Vermonters can find a list of free cable lock sites throughout the state, as well as a link of temporary and voluntary out-of-home storage sites at

Broadcast at noon Monday, Dec. 11, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Tedra worked on Vermont Edition as a producer and editor from 2022 to 2024.