As any dad with some old magazines in his sock drawer knows, there is no way to hide things from your children. This most assuredly includes a home-protection gun. Once the little monst, um, children start walking there is no way to keep something ready for use that children cannot find, even if they have to form an Abby-Grabby style human pyramid, they'll import Lyndie Englund to show them how, if they have to.
This bodes ill for those who wish to keep a shootin' iron for 'just in case' but it's not insurmountable. I happen to believe that there is simply no way to keep a gun ready for use and childproof at the same time. The answer is not childproof guns, it's gunproof children.
Once a child is old enough to understand what a gun is, and what it does, gunproofing isn't difficult. Before that age their little hands are too small and not strong enough to be a problem if we take just a couple of simple precautions. If your chosen house gun is a revolver, take it to a gunsmith and have the hammer spur milled off. Children that small can't work the double action trigger. If an autoloader or pump or autoloading shotgun is your choice it's even easier, an empty chamber. Load the magazine, leave the chamber empty.If they're not strong enough to rack the slide, we're golden. It's a good way to keep your housegun anyway. If we get awakened in the middle of the night the time it takes to chamber a round just might get us awake enough to avoid a tragedy.
Once a child is about five or so, it's time to start the gunproofing. Step one is simple enough, shoot a melon, something about head size like a cantalope or honeydew (I especially like the honeydew as it gives the the feeling that I'm shootin' those damn lists) with a gun and load big enough to blow it up. Test this first! Make sure that this load is impressive, if it's not, try another load. If you have to beg a shooting buddy for the loan of a bigbore or high velocity gun, do so. And, fa Heaven's sake, practice enough that you hit on the first shot, we're trying to impress the little bas, um, angels. Do NOT bother with hearing protection for them and don't let 'em stick their fingers in their ears. Keep them about ten feet or so behind, the noise of one shot won't cause any real damage. It will be unpleasent. Good. Just remember ten feet or so behind and a little to the side so they can see the impact. This, BTW is the only time we ever shoot around the kids without suitable hearing protection. Ever.
Then lead them up to inspect the melon carnage. Don't say anything for a minute, just let them take it in. Then give them The Speech.
Step two is the step we adults like. Have the kid(s) clean the guns, the outside first, then as they get a little more mature, the whole thing. Use the stinky solvents. Take the mystery out of the gun. Let them know they'll get to shoot when they're strong enough to handle it and have a little ceremonial test of strength each time. Our children will learn that the gun is not a toy but a serious tool that can do neat things but, like that circular saw in the garage, isn't for little kids. Make a big deal out of passing that first strength test and shooting outing. Involve the littler kids in the small party afterwards, something like a cake an ice cream or pizza party so they know their time will come. Kids aren't stupid, they're just kids. They know there are all kinds of things that they can't do yet. Your gun will be like your car, something for someday, not today.
This, along with periodic repititions of The Speech, will gunproof your children up until the age when you can start the final step in gunproofing the kids...supervised shooting in a Junior NRA Program.
The child that spends time shooting under the wing of a crusty old NRA Range Safety Officer will find it almost impossible to be unsafe with a gun. As parents, though, we must do our part. If the RSO finds it neccessary to yell at our kid, or even put him off the firing line, he, and now sometimes she, is right. Even if we think the RSO is wrong or unfair, in front of the kids, they're right. Any disagreements should be aired out far away from the kids. It's like when we learn how not to let the kids play Mom against Dad, or vice versa.
On the odd chance that a nongunny parent is reading this far, especially the parent who, for whatever reasons, doesn't like guns, I implore those parents to find a friend or reletive who does shoot to give the melon demonstration to your kids. In these days of gangbangers tossing guns out while running from the police and all the other possiblities, there's no telling what your child might discover. The condensed version of The Speech is easy, it's simply a suitably embellished version of The Rules:
A gun is not a toy.
If you find a gun, STOP. DON'T TOUCH. GET AWAY. TELL AN ADULT. Let those kids know that even if they are somewhere they aren't supposed to be, doing something they aren't supposed to be doing, they won't be punished, telling that adult about a stray gun is far more important in the scheme of things than whatever the kids were doing, right? Let's all, shooters and nonshooters alike put a stop to seven year olds shooting six year olds. They are our kids, they're worth the effort.