If you have kids living in your home and own guns for personal defense, you have a big responsibility to fulfill. You must make sure that you are taking the proper steps to balance your need to secure your firearms and your need to have easy access to them in a worst case scenario. Furthermore, and most importantly, you must provide your kids with a proper education on the safe handling and appropriate use of firearms.
Security and Staging
Firearms owned for personal defense are not “stored”, they are “secured” and “staged”. Let’s define those words. To “store” a firearm is to lock it away when it is not in use with the ammunition stored separately. Hunting rifles and shotguns are “stored” when they are not in use outside of hunting season. Heirlooms and collector’s items are the types of guns that might also be “stored”. To “secure” a firearm is to take steps that are reasonable to prevent unauthorized access to the firearm when it is not in use. To “stage” a firearm is to put it in a place that allows easy access to it in a worst case scenario. Defensive firearms should be “secured” and “staged” as opposed to “stored”. If you have kids living with you, or if kids spend any time in your home; you must make sure that you secure your defensive firearms in such a way that children cannot get access to them. This can be accomplished while still staging them to allow for quick access when you need it.
Your large, key operated gun safe is not going to accomplish these goals because the keys are usually cheap and easy to break, difficult to operate under stress, and require you to “hide” the key as well to truly secure them. In a worst case scenario, you don’t want to be hunting for a key to the safe and then fumbling around with it during the moment of truth. Think of the horror movies where the axe murderer is chasing the main character while they haplessly fumble with getting the keys in the door. You don’t want that to be you.
A modern quick-access safe with either the 4-button combo or the biometric fingerprint scanner is the best way to accomplish the goal of balancing security with accessibility. These types of safes will keep kids from gaining access while allowing you to quickly gain access under stress if you need to. Pro Tip: if you choose one of the biometric safes; load several different orientations of each fingerprint so that the safe will open whether you hit it the same way every time or not. Most safes will let you store up to 100 or more fingerprints, so I would store several orientations of each finger you intend to use for each person you want to have access.
Loaded or Unloaded
Obviously, if you are going to stage your guns for defensive purposes, it makes no sense to store the ammunition separately. The question isn’t whether they should be loaded but whether you should have a round in the chamber or not. Most quick-access safes are simply lock boxes. If you are going to have a gun sitting inside of a box, you are going to want to have the trigger covered if you plan to keep it loaded and chambered. You wouldn’t want to go sticking your hand into the box and accidentally actuate the trigger under stress, potentially injuring your hand and causing the gun to malfunction in the process. Putting the gun inside of a holster even if it is something simple like the trigger-guard covers such as the Vanguard series from Raven Concealment will protect the trigger and allow you to still quickly present the firearm. If you are going to put it in the safe without a holster, I would recommend putting the magazine in but leaving an empty chamber. In most home defense situations, you are going to likely have more time to rack the slide and chamber a round; so it shouldn’t be a problem like it is for concealed carry where we are dealing with split seconds.
Where to Stage
The best places to stage the quick access safe would be wherever you spend most of your time or whatever your “fall back” position is where you intend to barricade yourself in a worst case scenario. I personally have several safes in my house from my living room, bedroom, the kitchen, and the closet in my daughter’s room. I know that in a worst case scenario I am likely to be either already in one of those rooms or quickly moving toward one of them to barricade based on my home defense plan. Whatever your plan is, make sure that you have your guns staged in an intuitive way as part of that plan.
If you carry a firearm outside of the home, you must have the discipline to maintain control of your firearm by always having it in your possession, securing it when it isn’t, or rendering it inoperable. Whenever my gun is not in my holster on my body, it goes into one of my quick-access safes. If for some reason I do not put it directly into my quick access safe, I clear it and lock the slide open before I set it on any surface. This is something you must never get complacent about. Furthermore, you must be very careful with off-body carry options. If you carry your firearm in a bag or purse, that bag or purse needs to be in your direct control at all times and never left anywhere near where a child could get into it. You cannot set you purse in a cart at the store or leave it sitting next to your kid in the back seat of the car if there is a gun in it. You need to have that off-body option under your 100% control at all times; and when you get home you need to secure that gun just as if it were coming off of your hip. Glove boxes and consoles are not good places to put guns if you have kids in the car. Too often, parents forget the guns are there, kids get into the vehicles, and bad things happen. There are many stories of negligence where the parent fails to maintain control of an off-body carry option or forgets to secure a gun when returning from the public space. Practice meticulous discipline and don’t add to those statistics.
There is no magic age for when a child is old enough to start learning about gun safety. It is up to the parents to know the maturity level of their children and make the appropriate decision on when to begin the conversation. I would say that as soon as a kid is old enough to learn about “stranger danger” and other common concepts that they are old enough to learn about gun safety. The National Rifle Association has a good program called “Eddie the Eagle” that breaks gun safety down “Barney-style” so that kids can understand it.
What you absolutely do not want to do is just tell your kids “never touch guns” or “only touch guns when an adult is present”. The former is naïve and the latter is only a piece of the puzzle. It is your responsibility to teach your children the basics of gun safety like how to keep the gun pointed in a generally safe direction, keep the finger off of the trigger until ready to fire, and (once they have enough dexterity) how to unload and clear the gun. You should do this by taking your kids to the range with you and showing them the proper context for responsible usage of firearms. This will be far better than just saying “don’t touch”. Kids are curious by nature and if that is as far as you go, they are going to touch the gun and touch it in an unsafe manner as soon as they are given the opportunity. If you take the time to actually teach your kids about gun safety, it will be likely that if they are exposed to a gun outside of your supervision; they will at the very least handle it safely. If you don’t feel qualified to do the teaching, there are instructors through the NRA and programs like Project Appleseed that can help.
Beyond just teaching kids about gun safety in general, you want to educate them about what to do in a worst case scenario. For instance, if your kids are located on the other side of the house from where your bedroom is, you don’t want them to be moving across the open areas of the house where the bad guy might be when the alarm goes off. It is up to you to communicate to your kids what you expect them to do if and when a bad situation occurs. It can be as simple as a conversation and as detailed as running scenarios, depending on how far you want to take it. Whatever you choose to do, they need to be aware that there is a plan and that they have a part to play in a worst case scenario.
You can have guns in your home if you have kids. In fact, as someone who takes personal defense seriously, you should. In doing so, you must balance the need to secure your firearms with the ability to gain access to them. You must also educate your children on proper gun safety so that they know how to appropriately interact with firearms. Do these things and you will be meeting your responsibility as an armed parent.