Half the homes in the United States contain firearms. Even if children don’t have them in their own homes, they are likely to encounter them in the homes of neighbors and relatives. Firearm safety education is not enough — guns need to be kept away from children. Here is a chilling message I read on my college’s parenting listserv, clipped from The Tampa Tribune:
Marjorie Hardy, a Pennsylvania psychologist, planned an unusual experiment in 1996, when she was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She invited 48 children, ages 4 through 6, and their parents, to a day care center with a one-way-observation window in a playroom. Half the children, along with their parents, went through a gun-safety training program. First there was a session with a uniformed crime prevention officer. Then came a parent-child safety talk in which the children rehearsed what they had learned about gun safety — don’t touch, leave the room, go get an adult — and promised their parents they would always remember it. Then both groups of children, trained and untrained, were sent into the playroom, their parents watching through the one-way glass. There was an assortment of toys, including toy guns. On a table was a woman’s purse. Inside was a real gun, disarmed. “The overwhelming majority of the parents said, no, he absolutely won’t touch the gun, especially this one dad who was a police officer,” Hardy said, chuckling. “They were shocked, to say the least.”
In those groups of children who opened the purse, play with other toys immediately ceased. All attention centered on the gun. “It was scary,” Hardy said. “First they’d go, ‘Oooooh. look! It’s a real gun!’ They were putting it in their mouths, shooting the toys, shooting each other, shooting the mirror. Some of them tried to make bullets out of crayons.” One or two children from the trainee group briefly and ineffectually tried to get the other children to leave the gun alone. None succeeded.
“They were very susceptible to peer pressure,” Hardy said.
None left the room, as they had sworn to do. None went to get their parents, who they knew were right outside. Hardy did another study a year or so later, involving slightly older children given a week of safety training, including practice in resisting peer pressure and assertiveness training. That didn’t work either. “That one hasn’t been published yet, ” Hardy said and laughed. “It’s hard to get published when your results are nil.” (From The Tampa Tribune, December 9, 1998)