Study finds how to reduce risk of kids playing with a found gun

In a lab at The Ohio State University masquerading as a playroom, pairs of kids ages 8 to 12 participating in a study found a variety of toys and games to play with – as well as a mysterious file cabinet.

Inside one of the drawers of the unlocked cabinet were two disabled 9-mm handguns.

As they played in the room, nearly all the children eventually found the guns. But some kids in the study were much more likely to tell an adult they found a gun, less likely to touch the gun, and were less reckless if they did touch it – and they were the kids who had watched a one-minute gun safety video a week earlier.

The study may be the first to randomly assign some children to watch a gun safety video to determine if it had a protective effect, said , a doctoral candidate in communication at Ohio State.  Their results were published today (July 17, 2023) in the journal has shown that younger children find authority figures in uniforms to be especially persuasive.

In contrast, a firearm safety video by the National Rifle Association has been found to be ineffective, perhaps because it features a cartoon bird called Eddie Eagle rather than an authority figure, Bushman said.

Which video the children saw wasn’t the only risk factor linked to playing with the gun and not reporting it to adults. Being a boy was a risk factor, as was watching more age-inappropriate movies (which may include violence) and having an interest in guns.

Kids who had previously received firearms training were less at risk, as were those who had negative attitudes about guns.

Another protective factor was having a gun in the home, the study found.

“Research shows that gun owners talk to their children more often about gun safety than non-gun owners,” Kjærvik said.

The researchers also had children in the study watch a short clip of a violent PG-rated movie either with guns, or with the guns digitally removed, before they went into the playroom. The researchers had theorized that kids who watched the movie clips with guns would be more likely to play with the gun in the lab, but there was no effect.

“But the fact that kids who watched more age-inappropriate movies – which often include violent use of guns – were more at risk of playing with the gun makes us believe that media use does have an effect,” Bushman said.

Overall, the study provides a realistic and relatively easy way to help stem gun injuries and deaths among children, Kjærvik and Bushman said.

“We recommend that adults teach children about gun safety and reduce their exposure to age-inappropriate media,” the authors wrote.

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