The Bay area has seen its share of tragedies, when kids get their little hands on a gun:
“Nine to 12 children are injured by fire arms in United States daily,” says Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer and Master Deputy Ben Tillis.
“It's scary. I teach mine every day don't ever, ever touch a gun,” says Bryan Paavilainen, the father of Kaleb, 4, and Kolton, 6.
But are parents warnings, enough to keep kids safe? 10News WTSP teams up with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to put a group of kids to the test with an eye-opening experiment about the hazards of a hidden, unsecured handgun.
The group of eager Bay area kids, ages 4 to 10, thought they were at the 10News studios for a toy test. Their parents know, as they watch the kids on monitors in our control room, it's really a gun safety check.
“We own a firearm and tell him not to touch it ever,” says Catherine Mazyck, mother of 10-year-old Jasiah.
With help from Hillsborough County School Resource Officer Ben Tillis, 10News wedges an unloaded BB gun in a couch cushion.
“This is extremely real, looks like a real gun,” says Tillis.
“Oh, my heart is pounding right now! It’s scary,” says Michelle Pavlik, mother of 8-year-old, Max.
Girls are playing, essentially sitting on the hidden potential danger.
The parents gasp, 13 minutes into the test, as the gun catches the eye of 4-year-old Kaleb. He pulls it out looking unsure, then tells his 6-year-old brother, Kolton.
“Look what I found,” Kaleb says.
Then Kolton picks it up, 5-year-old Austin grabs it, 8-year-old Brady checks it out, his 5-year-old sister, Meredith, is curious.
“No one is telling anyone yet,” says Tillis.
Less than 3 minutes after finding it, Kaleb puts his thumb on the trigger and squeezes.
“It’s a tough thing to swallow, because you never know what could happen that quick. One pull of the trigger and it's over,” says Kaleb’s father, Bryan Paavilainen.
“What is this thing,” wonders 10-year-old Aiden as he picks up the gun and heads over to show the other boys.
A boy asks, “Where did you find that?” Aiden tells him, “It was sitting on the couch.”
The gun changes hands four times in less than 30 seconds, before 8-year-old Max fires.
There's debate whether it's a toy.
“Pistols you have to pull back and shoot it,” says Max.
“That’s a real gun,” Kaleb insists.
“No, it’s not,” argues 8-year-old Jasiah.
"Yes it is,” says Kaleb.
Jasiah suggest, “Then shoot it at the floor.”
“If it's a real gun, it shouldn't be laying on the couch, it should be hidden somewhere safe,” says Max.
“He's never seen a real gun. It’s eye-opening,” says Max’s dad, Rudy Pavlik.
Unsure if the gun is real, the boys fire it any way.
“It's scary,” says Kaleb’s mom, Alicia Paavilainen. “I’m happy he's telling them it's a real gun, not a toy, again, he picked it up first.”
Then it becomes a free for all. Eight-year-old Brady points it at his sister’s doll and pulls the trigger.
“You could be at anyone's house and say, ‘Oh it's not real, it's just fake and you just believe it,’” says Brady’s mom, Tamara Coffey.
The boys fire at each other. 5-year-old Austin chases Brady with the gun aimed. “I was almost in tears seeing it, because they think it's a game,” says Austin’s mom, Ashley Tepfer.
Tillis surprises the kids and interrupts play time, “Everyone having fun?” He takes the gun and gives the kids the real lesson to this test.
“You don't touch it, you get away from it, and you tell an adult,” says Tillis.
“They said it was empty, so I thought it was a toy,” says 8-year-old Brady.
“What would have happened if this was a real gun, guys?” asks Tillis.
“If it was a real gun, they would actually shoot somebody,” says 6-year-old A’Mya.
“Someone might've been hurt, someone might've died,” says Tillis.
“We really have to reiterate it is not a toy. It’s pretty alarming,” says A’May’s grandfather, Greg Seals.
Some of the kids who pulled the trigger in our test, had already learned the rules about gun safety in school.
The Hillsborough County School District along with local officers and MORE Health teach students about gun safety in their third-grade class.
Firearm Safety 1 "Respect Not Risk"
Grade Level: 3rd | Program Length: 40 minutes
Health Education Topics: Injury Prevention & Safety, Mental & Emotional Health
HALT! HANDS OFF! GET OUT! GET HELP! Students learn the procedures for firearm safety and how to make safe decisions in potentially dangerous situations. Law enforcement and MORE HEALTH team up to emphasize the importance of treating every firearm as if it is real and loaded.
Students in the Pinellas County School District are also taught gun safety as part of their general health lessons in third grade, including what they should do if they find a gun.
Tillis points out that before a child visits another home, parents often ask the other parents if they have a pool and it's secure. He suggests parents ask those same questions about guns.
Some parents are now making the choice to teach their kids how to shoot a gun to help take the mystery out of the danger.