Locked but not loaded is the law when guns are near kids in Virginia homes.
Virginia law holds gun owners responsible for safely keeping weapons away from kids, but law enforcement and schools are targeting kids and teens with education about gun safety.
It's simple to lock up a firearm, according to Deputy Frank Moore with the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office. He says even a padlock does the trick, and while that may not prevent theft, it can keep a tragedy from happening. "That padlock through the trigger guard, behind the trigger. That gun cannot possibly be fired," he stated.
Moore recommends investing in a lockbox for stronger security against kids getting their hands on a gun. Police and sheriff's departments also give away basic chain and key child safety locks at no cost.
Moore said, "There's no excuse to not have this except ignorance. And ignorance can be fixed with education."
Deputy Moore and his wife teach kids and teens about guns through the National Rifle Association's (NRA) Eddie Eagle Program. It offers free firearms safety education seminars in classrooms and camps across the county.
It teaches kids to "Stop. Don't touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult. Then, they're armed with something that will help keep them safe," explained Moore.
Police say the worst thing you can do with your kids is pretend that guns don't exist in your neighborhood; there are guns in 50 percent of American homes. Chances are your child will end up in one of those homes at some point.
Homeowners are not responsible for telling you there's a gun in the house.
"Don't be afraid to ask - do you have guns and we want to make sure they're unloaded or not in a location my child can reach," stated Michie Hamlett Attorney Bryan Slaughter.
Gun owners can be charged with criminal negligence if a child under the age of 14 gets a hold of a gun.
Slaughter said, "It's actually a violation of the law to have a loaded firearm in a place where a child can reach it."
Deputy Moore makes it clear to kids that guns are not toys but he says keeping guns out of their reach is ultimately up to adults. "You have a responsibility to keep it secure and out of the hands of children," he stated.
A Virginia Department of Health report counted just 16 accidental gun-related child and teen deaths in the commonwealth between 1999 and 2007.
To learn more about the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, including how to schedule a seminar for a group of kids, click here or call the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office at (434) 972-4001.
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