Recently there was a shooting in Newport News, Virginia where a six-year-old child shot their teacher in front of other kids in the class. Although I’m trained as a pediatrician, I experience the news of gun violence tragedies as a mom first. A six-year-old child just lost his first few teeth, still believes in Santa Claus and is learning to tie his shoes. No matter what is discovered about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, a six-year-old child should have never had access to a loaded gun.
As a physician, I often have to bring up sensitive topics so that my patients and I can discuss and work on solutions together. It’s no different for firearm safety. If we put aside judgment and talk about it, there are concrete actions we (gun owners and non-gun owners alike) can all take today that can protect our kids and our community.
Related: Gun violence is the leading cause of death in children. How can we talk about anything else?
The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of discussing safer storage of firearms: “providing barriers to access to firearms in the home is a crucial mechanism to decreasing the risk of unintentional firearm shooting as well as suicide and homicide.” It’s estimated that 4.6 million kids live in households with unsecured firearms. Firearm violence is now the number one killer of children and teens, surpassing motor vehicle crashes and even cancer. This is a problem that is not going away. During the pandemic, there was a 52% increase in childhood firearm injuries.
Regardless of whether your family owns guns or not, we all want to keep our kids and communities safe. So we need to figure out how to talk about this. Here are some gun safety tips to help start the conversation.
5 tips on how to reduce gun violence
The Be SMART framework was developed and informed by researchers and stakeholders in a variety of communities, including gun owners and members of the healthcare community. It’s a practical tool for talking about gun safety and taking responsible actions to prevent gun violence. Let’s unpack each step.
Secure guns in homes and vehicles. Guns should be stored separately from ammunition—the gun should be secured with a trigger or cable lock, and the gun and ammunition should be secured in a lock box or safe. As children grow, adults should consider more secure methods. In one study, despite the majority of parents reporting that their teen could not independently access the household gun, more than a third of adolescents reported they could access the gun in less than five minutes. Here are some good resources on secure storage to learn more.
Model responsible behavior around guns. This means explaining to kids that guns can injure or kill people. Talk to your kids about what to do if they see a gun:
- Never touch it (even if their friend says it is not loaded)
- Never assume it is a toy.
- Get away from it, and tell an adult.
We all know that kids are curious and will get into things they’re not supposed to, so let’s coach and model appropriate behavior around something which can cause real harm.
Ask about unsecured guns in homes or vehicles. We often avoid the topic of guns with friends or neighbors, afraid of starting a political debate. But we ask about food allergies because we understand the safety risk. Guns can also be incorporated into your general safety questions.
Related: 10 ways you can channel your grief and rage into action—right now
Consider other homes where a child is spending time, maybe for a playdate or childcare. Others get that you want to keep your child and their child safe. If you know the family owns guns, you could even text something like: “After hearing about the recent Newport news shooting, I just have to ask, how are your guns stored? The kids get into everything, and so I just wanted to double check.”
Recognize the role of guns in suicide. The time between thinking of a suicide attempt and acting on it is often very short (a matter of minutes or hours) according to the Harvard campaign, Means Matters. 70% of people who survive a suicide attempt will never attempt suicide again. So putting time and space between a person in a mental health crisis and a deadly weapon can save their life.
Firearm suicide is uniquely lethal, with 90% of suicide attempts using a gun ending in death. If you have a child or loved one struggling with mental health issues, then it could be lifesaving to re-consider having a firearm in the home at all, or consider a more secure method of storage.
Tell everyone you know about Be SMART. Be SMART helps us talk about guns in our day-to-day lives, because the safety of our kids makes sense to all of us. When guns are stored securely, they are less likely to be stolen and used for crimes.
According to a study by the US Secret Service, over 75% of school shooters obtain their gun from the household of a parent or close relative. Spreading the message about firearm safety protects your whole community by keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
The impact of one conversation, even if it feels awkward, could be that you save your child, family and community from the trauma of gun violence. That is the power we all have.
This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.