American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition

American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition

November 04, 2018
3 min read

Most children cannot tell real guns from toy guns

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

ORLANDO, Fla. — Most parents and caregivers said in a recent survey that their children could tell a toy gun from a real gun. However, less than half of children could distinguish between them in side-by-side photos.

Researchers said the findings underscore the importance of safe gun storage, considering that one in three children live in a home with a firearm.

Over a 3-month period, Kiesha Fraser Doh, MD, FAAP, an assistant professor of pediatrics and an emergency medicine physician at Emory University School of Medicine, and colleagues surveyed almost 300 caregiver-child pairs visiting one of three pediatric EDs — two suburban and one urban — in the Southeastern United States. The caregivers were English speaking, and their children were aged 7 to 17 years.

One-quarter of caregivers were gun owners, and 79% were female. Gun owners were significantly more likely than non-gun owners to be white (P < .0001), have an annual income greater than $50,000 (P < .0001), and some college education (P = .0258). Additionally, gun owners were more likely to allow their children play with a toy gun (50% vs. 26%; P < .01), discuss firearm safety with their children (86% vs 58%; P < .001), and believe their children could correctly identify a real gun vs. a toy gun (86% vs 58%; P = .01).

Children, regardless of whether their caregivers owned guns, also felt confident that they could identify a real gun (79% of children of gun owners and 76% of children of non-gun owners). However, when children were presented with images of a real gun and a toy gun, less than half in both groups correctly identified the real gun. Regardless of gun ownership, more than 80% of respondents supported firearm safety legislation.

The researchers also noted that few caregivers (5.1%) felt their child could obtain a gun in 24 hours, whereas 14% of children whose caregivers owned guns and 4% of children whose caregivers did not own guns said they could obtain a gun 24 hours (P = .003).

Among the caregivers who owned guns — most of them surveyed at suburban hospitals — only 34% stored their guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition, which is recommended by the AAP. Furthermore, among children with guns at home, 53% knew where they were stored and 45% knew where the ammunition was stored, according to an accompanying press release.

“One of the most dramatic findings was how easily caregivers and children can confuse real guns with today’s realistic-looking toy guns,” Doh said in the release. “Especially considering gun owners surveyed were nearly twice as likely as non-gun owners to let their children play with toy guns, safe storage of firearms in homes where children play is critical.” – by John Schoen


Doh KF, et al. A comparison of parental firearm storage patterns and children’s access to firearms. Presented at: American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition; Nov. 2-6, 2018; Orlando, Fla.

Disclosure: Doh reports no relevant financial disclosures.