Each year unintentional shootings claim the lives of at least 100 children age 17 and under, and more than 400 other children commit suicide using a gun, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. As a response to these tragedies, Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that formed after the Sandy Hook school shooting, has developed Be SMART, an educational outreach program. Be SMART promotes responsible gun storage and encourages adults to take simple steps to reduce unintentional gun deaths that happen all too frequently when children get ahold of an unsecured firearm.
The Be SMART program requires asking some awkward questions of friends and fellow parents, but that awkward conversation could save the life of a child. Children in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to die from gun violence than children in other developed countries.
The acronym SMART stands for five steps that gun owners and parents can take to keep kids safe:
SECURE all guns in homes and vehicles. Firearms should be locked securely, such as in a biometric safe (available for as little as $100), and stored separately from ammunition. This step alone could save countless lives, given that more than two million kids live in homes with unsecured guns, according to Everytown. And don’t assume that your sweet second-grader has no idea which closet your firearm is in; 70% of children in gun-owning households under the age of 10 know where their parents’ guns are stored.
Guns that are left unsecured in a vehicle are especially prone to theft. In Loudon County, 20 firearms were stolen from vehicles between November and mid-January.
MODEL responsible behavior around guns. All adults in the home should be in agreement about having a firearm on the premises. If the weapon is for protection, are crimes rates in your neighborhood high enough to necessitate having a gun in a home where children are present? Some extra consideration should be given to this decision if any children or adults in the home suffer from depression, or if young children visit frequently (as might happen in the home of a grandparent providing child care to grandchildren). Children age two to four are most likely to pick up a firearm and injure themselves or others.
For guns stored securely, make sure that they are pointed in a safe direction and that you know what is on the other side of the target. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded, and don’t rely on your gun’s safety catch.
ASK about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes. “Tell me how you store your firearms” is not a typical conversation-starter, especially with a parent whom you hardly know, but if you were sending your child to a house with a swimming pool, you might ask the owner if there was a fence around it, and if your child suffered from peanut allergies, you would certainly raise that topic with the other parents. With such a large number of law enforcement personnel who work and live in the D.C. metropolitan area, it’s not unusual for a home to contain a service weapon.
After you screw up your courage to ask the question, what should be the correct answer? “We have no loaded guns, the ammunition is stored separately, we use gun locks, and the guns are not accessible to children.” If family members’ firearms are not locked and unloaded, then perhaps you should host Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Responsible gun owners can both raise awareness and inform other parents by volunteering information about how they safely store their own guns. One parent added this helpful all-purpose note to the bottom of her child’s birthday party invitation: “We have a big dog, a small cat and zero guns.”
RECOGNIZE the risks of teen suicide. Suicide is often an impulsive and spontaneous action, and the presence and availability of a gun is a more significant risk factor than mental illness. Firearms are the most lethal method of suicide, with death resulting in 85% of attempts.
Some common warning signs of suicide are changes in mood or behavior; a feeling of hopelessness, shame or desperation; an increase in aggression; and talking about wanting to kill oneself. Even if no one in your household fits this description, consider the risk that an unsecured firearm could pose to a troubled neighbor or acquaintance who, for example, has noticed in passing your gun on a rack in your garage.
TELL your peers to Be SMART. “Years ago, drunk driving, safe sex or mental illness were not part of everyday conversations. Fortunately, that’s changed,” says Susan Keightley, a Moms Demand Action volunteer who has given several presentations to parent groups and even a group of police officers.
As parents, we are tasked with making the world safe for all children, not just our own. For more information on becoming a Be SMART leader or having a Be SMART leader give a presentation to a PTA, neighborhood or church group, click here.
Sources: The Washington Post, Everytown for Gun Safety
T.C. Williams All-Night Grad Party Needs You!
The 28th annual All-Night Drug- and Alcohol-Free Graduation Party for the Class of 2017 will take place on Saturday, June 17, at Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Facility.
Volunteers are needed to make this fun night a success for our newest graduates. If you are an ACPS parent or staff member, active in our community, or a T.C. Williams alum over the age of 20, please consider volunteering your time and being a part of this amazing celebration.
Sponsored by the T.C. Williams PTSA and made possible by the generous support of local businesses, citizens, community organizations, and alumni, the All-Night Grad Party sends the clear message that our community cares deeply about our youth’s safety and well-being. Since this tradition began in 1989, there have been no drug- or alcohol-related graduation night fatalities involving T.C. Williams High School students.