Guns are being brought out and readied for hunting season all over the northwest. As the number of guns in homes rises, so does the risk of accidental and intentional firearm-related injuries and deaths.

If you have a gun in your home, whether it's a hunting rifle, a shotgun or a handgun, this is a good time to make sure that it is stored safely at all times. If children or teens live in or visit your home, safe gun storage becomes even more important.

The statistics about children and teens who are injured or killed by firearms in the United States are dismal. According to the Centers for Disease Control:

• A child or teen was killed in a firearm-related accident or suicide every 7 1/2 hours in 2000.

• Between 1995 and 2000, an average of four to five children died every day in non-homicide firearm accidents.

• In 2001, there were 14,571 children injured by a firearm, plus 13,572 injured by BB or pellet guns.

• Between 1991 and 2000, an average of 1,323 children and teens committed suicide with a firearm each year.

Although hunting accidents usually get a lot of media attention, they are rare compared to firearm-related suicides. Of all the deaths caused by guns in Oregon, 77 percent of them are because of suicide. Most firearm-related suicides occur in the home, using a family member's unlocked gun.

Firearms are used in more than 60 percent of all suicides in Oregon. If someone who is suicidal has access to a gun, they can act on an impulse and kill themselves quickly. If there is no gun available, a suicidal person may try options that are less likely to be fatal. In countries where people do not have easy access to guns, the suicide rates are significantly lower than they are here.

People with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder ("manic-depression") and schizophrenia are at a higher risk for suicide. Alcoholics and other substance abusers are also at higher risk. Safe gun storage in households where people with these types of mental illnesses live is extremely important. Depressed male teens and elderly men are at highest risk of committing suicide.

Don't think that just because your children have a healthy respect for guns and know all about hunting safety that you can leave guns unlocked in your home. Children and teens do not always have good judgment. Even if you think that your kids would never touch a gun without your permission, their friends may be curious and could convince them to bring out your gun "just this once."

How to store a gun safely:

• Unload the gun.

• Remember to remove all bullets from the cylinder of a revolver or from the chamber from a semi-automatic handgun, not just the magazine.

• Lock guns up securely, out of sight and out of reach. Gun safes are the most secure option.

• If you don't have a gun safe or lock box, get a high quality trigger lock.

• Don't keep guns in obvious places such as in a drawer next to your bed or under your bed or mattress.

• Lock up the ammunition in a place away from the gun.

• Keep your keys to guns and ammunition in a separate, secure place.

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