How Behavior Analysis Can Contribute To Gun Safety

By Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

Unintentional shootings result in countless injuries and deaths each year, and many of the victims of these casualties are children. In 2005, Miltenberger et al. conducted a study to gauge the efficacy of Behavior Skills Training (BST) and in-situ training in preventing children from playing with guns. The two risk factors for unintentional firearm injury and death identified in the study were unsafe storage of firearms and the natural tendency for children to play with guns.

The participants in the study were 10 children between the ages of 4 and 5. The two settings in the study were the children’s classrooms and their homes. Experimenters used a 3-point scale to identify child safety skills needed when finding a gun. 0 indicated that the child touched the gun. 1 indicated that the child did not touch the gun, but did not leave the area. 2 indicated that the child did not touch the gun and left the area within 10 seconds. 3 indicated that the child did not touch the gun, left the area within 10 seconds, and notified an adult.

A multiple baseline design across participants was used. During the baseline phase, children did not receive performance feedback. During the training phase, experimenters ran two BST sessions, with each participant in their classroom. These sessions consisted of “instructions, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback.” 30 minutes following the second BST session, each child was instructed by his or her teacher to go to a specific location (for example, a teacher would tell a child that a snack was left in the room for them). A gun was placed within view in the room so that each child would see it. If the child did not follow the correct safety skills, a trainer would enter the room and provide in-situ training. Another in-situ training was conducted within 2 days of the initial BST. Experimenters delivered reinforcement for correct responding, and provided the children with additional in-situ training for repeated incorrect responding. All children met criterion during the BST and in-situ training phase.

A follow-up dyad assessment was conducted 3 months following the initial training. Children were randomly paired and sent to play on a playground where a gun had been placed. In the follow-up phase, all of the children in the study demonstrated that they had retained the safety skills they had learned 3 months prior, even with a peer present (they did not touch the gun, walked away from the gun, and told an adult).

In baseline, only 1 child followed all 3 safety skills. By the end of the initial BST and in-situ training, all participants had met criterion, though some required additional in-situ training within their homes to ensure generalization across settings. In addition, all participants retained these safety skills, as demonstrated by a 3-month follow-up assessment. While the study did not compare BST with and without in-situ training, it demonstrated that BST combined with in-situ training was more effective than BST alone.

It should be noted that the study investigated the training strategies with a small pool of children. Hundreds of millions of guns exist within the United States, and future studies should aim to determine the efficacy of these safety-training strategies with larger groups of children, in addition to disseminating these teaching procedures to caregivers around the country to use themselves.

To read more about Behavioral Skills Training, check out Behavioral Skills Training in Four Easy Steps by our own Zainab Fazal.  If you have experience training gun safety skills let us know in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles to your inbox.


Miltenberger, R.G., Gatheridge, B.J., Satterlund, M., Egemo-Helm, K.R., Johnson, B.M., Jostad, C., Kelso, P., & Flessner, C.A. (2005). Teaching safety skills to children to prevent gun play: An evaluation of in situ training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38(3), 395-398. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2005.130-04.

Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, is a behavior clinician who works with children on the Autism Spectrum in the Greater Boston Area. She has over 3 years of experience delivering therapeutic services both in-home and in the public school system. Though she is predominantly focused on the utilization of Applied Behavior Analysis in treating individuals with disabilities, Emily enjoys examining topics such as religion, medicine, politics, and social constructs, through a behavioral lens. You can contact her at

2 Comments on "How Behavior Analysis Can Contribute To Gun Safety"

  1. Nice work in such a high risk area Emily!

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