We need to talk. Yesterday was national ASK day when Brady chapters around the country participated in activities to highlight the risks of loaded guns in homes for kids. Many articles revealed some startling information about kids and guns that we can’t avoid talking about. But avoid we do. Just like some of the other important issues of the day, we skirt around the edges of problems we need to tackle but we can’t find agreement. Our polarized nation is becoming even more polarized.
One thing I believe we can agree on is that small children should not be able to access guns and then shoot either themselves or someone else, like a sibling, friend, parent or cousin. It happens almost every day and it’s a national tragedy and health care epidemic. But even about this, common sense does not happen. Why? Good question.
The ASK campaign encourages parents to ask if their are loaded, unsecured guns in the homes where children play. It is an awkward conversation for sure. But it is a necessary conversation. It is the job of parents to keep their children safe from harm. It is the job of law abiding gun owners to be responsible enough to keep loaded guns out of the hands of small children- or teens who are curious about guns. Kids are naturally curious about guns. They are exposed to them early in play, TV, computers, and movies. Guns are fascinating. They are also the only product on our market that are designed to kill another human being therefore making them a risk to those who own them.
In the information on the above linked website at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, we learn some facts- and they are facts:
- 1 in 3 homes with children have guns, many unlocked and loaded
- 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns
- 3 of 4 children know where guns are kept in their homes
- 80% of unintentional shootings of children happen in homes.
And yet, adults expose kids to guns sometimes purposely, ,sometimes not, thinking that nothing could ever happen if only they teach their kids not to touch. That doesn’t work, period. There are both incidents to show the fallacy of that argument oft used by the corporate gun lobby and those who believe that and evidence to show it does not work.
I have included this video from ABC’s 20/20 program many times before about what happens when kids are told not to touch guns by adults but when left alone, they touch and play with real guns. This is just not OK but should not be a surprise to us.
Here are a few of the recent articles about kids and guns that need to be taken seriously.
From the American Psychological Association about why talking about guns in homes is a good idea.
The Dear Abby column giving terrible advice to a young mom who asked about guns in homes where her children will be going to play. I personally made a comment and many others did as well. Hopefully whoever plays the part of Abby will have learned a thing or two about asking about guns and the true risks to children in homes where loaded guns are present.
Few stories are more heartbreaking than those involving children who are injured or killed by gunshots. It isn’t hard to find them: In June alone, a 6-year-old accidentally shot and killed a 4-year-old in South Carolina, a father accidentally shot and killed his 9-year-old daughter in Indiana and an 8-year-old Mississippi boy was accidentally shot in the chest. His grandparents drove him to the hospital, but he died 45 minutes later. Sadly, the list of child gun deaths goes on.
Though we constantly see examples in the news, child gun injuries and deaths may be even more prevalent in the United States than we realized. A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics showed that an average of 5,790 children in the United States receive emergency room treatment for gun-related injuries each year, and around 21 percent of those injuries are unintentional. The study also found that an average of 1,297 children die annually from gun-related injuries, making guns the third-leading cause of death for children in America (behind illnesses and unintentional injuries like drownings or car crashes). The number is based on data taken from 2012–2014 for children up to the age of 17.
From the Today Show on-line site, a mother whose child was senselessly shot in an
accidental shooting tells her story:
Who allows their child to keep unlocked guns in their room? Still to this day, I can’t wrap my mind around that. Guilt eats at me night and day. The worst thing that can happen to a mother is for her child to be killed. My child was in the care of others who let him and his family down. Forgiveness is something I struggle with daily.
I am a gun owner. I believe in gun locks and following strict safety procedures around guns. I am always surprised that some folks view my beliefs as being against the right to bear arms. I am not against guns. Noah was raised around guns. He went hunting for the first time when he was 3 years old. The difference between us and a lot of other gun owners is that we understand the power a gun can have when not in the right hands or is handled improperly. Guns should be locked and kept away from curious children. They were definitely not allowed in my son’s room.
But no matter what we instilled in him, none of it saved him that night. He was at the mercy of other people. And, sadly, I never imagined that other parents were not as responsible as I am. I never thought to ask his friend’s parents about how they stored their guns because I naively assumed everyone was like me.
There three main steps you can take, expanded upon below. First, remove all firearms from the home. Second, if you are unable or unwilling to remove all guns from the home, stored them unloaded in a locked safe with ammunition locked up elsewhere. Third, ask the household members of every home your child visits whether they have firearms in the home and, if so, whether they are safely stored as above.
Nearly 1300 children die and 5790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children, and minorities are disproportionately affected. Although unintentional firearm deaths among children declined from 2002 to 2014 and firearm homicides declined from 2007 to 2014, firearm suicides decreased between 2002 and 2007 and then showed a significant upward trend from 2007 to 2014. Rates of firearm homicide among children are higher in many Southern states and parts of the Midwest relative to other parts of the country. Firearm suicides are more dispersed across the United States with some of the highest rates occurring in Western states. Firearm homicides of younger children often occurred in multivictim events and involved intimate partner or family conflict; older children more often died in the context of crime and violence. Firearm suicides were often precipitated by situational and relationship problems. The shooter playing with a gun was the most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children.
“Is there an unlocked gun where your child plays?”
Each year on June 21, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence encourage parents to ask questions about whether guns are accessible to their children.
It’s a question that should be asked every day, but as we hear all too often, sometimes guns get into the hands of children. Each day, 19 children in the United States are either killed or injured by a firearm.
And the work isn’t done for parents who are taking the right safety measures, Ashlyn Melton writes in a Today column. Melton’s son was accidentally shot and killed by a friend who had access to loaded guns.
In the column, she notes that parents should feel comfortable asking their children’s friend’s parents about where they store their guns.
I rest my case. This is probably enough for now. Because of my volunteer work, I read regular stories about “accidental” shootings of and by children. What the articles above reveal should be enough for us to get to work, put our noses to the grindstone and do everything we can to prevent and reduce avoidable gun deaths.
In my city of Duluth, young parents will be at local playgrounds on Saturday to talk to other parents about the ASK campaign and changing the conversation about the risks of guns in homes. One of these parents is an Emergency Physician. Another a Psychotherapist, another a Child Service Advocate for the county, another a math teacher at our local university- all with young children and concerns about keeping their children safe from potential harm before something happens that would make it too late. Intervention and prevention is the key to this American public health problem.
As more people learn the facts, more people are concerned and more people will demand that something be done legislatively but they will also be the agents of change that must happen before our ubiquitous and deadly gun culture will also change. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we must be involved and we must act.
We should all be on the same team when it comes from protecting our children from harm. We seem to agree about poisons, electrical outlets, household cleaners, child seat belts, safe baby cribs and toys, crossing guards, bike helmets, and many other potential harmful things for our children.
Let’s get to work.
I want to add a graphic from the ASK campaign that is important to how we change the conversation.