My oldest son recently turned 4 years old, and he’s gone to play several times at neighbors’ homes without my husband or I sticking around. He’s reaching that age when I might drop him off at a friend’s house for a few hours and then return to pick him up, trusting that during that time, he will be appropriately supervised by the friend’s parent. I’m not a naturally paranoid, suspicious or judgmental person, and I generally give others the benefit of the doubt even when they don’t get it as much from others.
That said, I’m going to start asking one question of other parents that may eventually earn me some defensive, even angry, responses. But I’m going to ask it anyway: “Is there an unlocked gun anywhere in your home?”
I already expect to get some “It’s none of your business responses,” which I’ve seen mentioned on social media. But if that’s the response, my child won’t be playing at that home, and I will no longer trust that parent – because it IS my business whether an unlocked gun will be around in the environment where my child plays. It is EVERYONE’S business whether an unlocked gun is around, and it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to start asking this question, lest we continue to see tragic accidental, fatal shootings among children.
Today, June 21, is National ASK Day, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatricians and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. I know the Brady Center is controversial among those who feel strongly about Second Amendment rights. I have studiously avoided policy and political commentary and topics on this blog, and I will continue to do so. This post does not express any opinion toward the Brady Center one way or another. It is not a political post. It’s a common sense post, and it’s definitely evidence-based.
The ASK campaign reports that NINE children and teens are estimated to be shot each day in gun accidents. That may seem high, but you can run the numbers yourself at the CDC. I just ran a search for unintentional firearm deaths among those aged 19 and younger on the CDC’s Fatal Injury data site and then non-fatal unintentional firearm injuries.
In 2011, there were 140 deaths and 2,886 injuries, just over 8 per day for that particular year – and those are likely underestimates. Not all injuries are reported, and deaths that are first misclassified as homicide before being reclassified as accidents are often not re-reported as such.(Firearm injury tracking is one of the poorest data collections we have in the US, for many reasons, but that’s a post for another day.)
Even if I hadn’t run that report, however, my involvement the past two years with Parents Against Gun Violence (PAGV) has meant that I see news story after news story after news story (after news story after news story) – many more than most see on their Facebook, Twitter or RSS feeds – about children all over the US shot and killed by other children, by folks cleaning their guns, by dropped guns, by various other forms of negligence. It’s depressing. Really, really depressing.
It’s so depressing that PAGV has struggled with finding the manpower to continue updating our specialized “Formerly Responsible Gun Owner” blog, where these and other incidents are recorded. (This blog does not document only incidents involving children, but all the incidents explicitly involve previously (or still) law-abiding citizens who would have been considered “responsible gun owners” until the incident that occurred.) We have all the stories collected, but posting them requires someone to read each one, to read the details of incredibly tragic, preventable deaths.
I am willing to piss off a few fellow parents to reduce the likelihood that my son will become one of those. And that’s why I will ask them about guns in their home.
This campaign is not about shaming gun owners or having a problem with a person who owns guns. In fact, our home is a gun-owning home, and I grew up in a gun-owning (and hunting) home, on a block full of neighbors who owned guns. It’s estimated that one in every three homes contains a gun, but it’s only the ones left loaded and unlocked that are the problem here. This campaign is about ensuring that anyone who does own a gun has that gun securely locked up, preferably unloaded, and completely inaccessible to children and visitors.
The AAP has policy statement regarding firearms, which accurately states that the *most* effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths is to remove guns from homes and communities. For many reasons, many families will choose to own a gun, and in that case, the AAP recommends that all guns are stored unloaded and locked, preferably in a gun safe, with ammunition locked away separately.
This next part is important – REALLY important: hiding guns is not good enough. Kids find stuff. They find things you wouldn’t imagine possible. They find stuff you thought you’d lost years ago. If there is a gun hidden in the home, they’re highly likely to find it, and they’re not likely to leave it alone. I’ve heard many gun owners claim that their children have been appropriately educated and trained to respect guns and not to touch one if they find it. But research – and this hidden camera experiment that is REALLY worth watching – have shown that kids can’t resist picking up and playing with a gun, *even if* they’ve been educated otherwise. Surprisingly, gun awareness and education sessions may actually *increase* a child’s likelihood of handling a gun when they find one. This is even true of teenagers and college students.
So, this blog post is to encourage other parents to ask. I recognize that it can be awkward or unpleasant. This article on Today Parents discusses how to broach the conversation. I’ve also included several infographics and tips below from the ASK campaign’s outstanding toolkit. I’m adding one of their website graphics to my site permanently. They also offer statistics, website banners and other ways parents can get involved. I encourage readers to explore their excellent site. I may periodically post their other resources on this blog. Also take the time to read this outstanding New York Times article on child gun deaths. And please, ask.