My kids are already bored. They have played all the Nintendo and are starting to get into things looking for anything to entertain them. They’ve emptied toy boxes, drug everything out of their closets, found last year’s Easter candy under their beds and are looking for more to do. I am trying to work, and technically it is Spring Break, so as long as the kids are being quiet I’m happy.
Of course, curious kids can find a way to get themselves into dangerous situations, even while social distancing. Across the U.S., an estimated 13 million households with children under the age of 18 contain at least one gun. And not all of these firearms are stored securely. In fact, approximately 4.6 million children live in a household with at least one gun that is stored loaded and unlocked.
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I am a teacher and, in unquarantined times, unsecured guns in homes are on my mind constantly. After all, kids who bring guns to school get them from adults who left them unsecured. Now, school is out and kids are saying heartbreaking things like “I don’t have to worry about getting shot at school for 3 weeks!” But unsecured guns are still on my mind. When guns are accessible to kids stuck in the house, we have to worry about getting shot at home.
Bored kids and unlocked guns are a recipe for disaster. In an average, nonpandemic year, nearly 350 American children gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else.
We are already seeing COVID-19 and social distancing related gun deaths. In Albuquerque, a young man purchased a gun for protection during the scare. He claims he didn’t know it was loaded, and unintentionally shot and killed his 13-year-old cousin. In Sacramento last week, a 10-year-old boy was unintentionally shot and injured by his 7-year-old brother when they obtained and played with an unsecured gun. And in Missouri after schools were closed last week, a 15-year-old boy unintentionally shot and killed his 12-year-old sister in their home.
Arkansas has the second-highest rate of gun ownership and the ninth-highest rate of gun deaths in the nation. And people are stocking up on guns and ammunition across the state as we speak. Like coronavirus, it’s only a matter of time before it happens here if we don’t take precautions.
My kids aren’t alone in getting into everything right now. My friends’ children are digging through drawers and searching closet shelves, too. We’re all going to need to find new Christmas present hiding places and the secret stashes of good snacks are bound to be discovered. Hiding a gun is not safe storage any time, but particularly not right now. Kids finding guns is a very real concern while we’re all shut inside. It is imperative to store guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition. You can lock your snacks in your gun safe, too. I won’t tell.
The importance of secure storage doesn’t stop at preventing unintentional shootings by children. Turns out, it’s good for your mental health, too. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that coronavirus has people feeling anxious, isolated, stressed and helpless. Some of their suggestions are to separate what is in your control from what is not, and to do what helps you feel a sense of safety. Storing firearms securely is both within your control and gives a sense of safety knowing your kids can’t get them. Additionally, teenagers are feeling anxious and depressed right now, too. According to the CDC, more than 600 children living in America die by gun suicide every year. Secure storage can play a crucial role in preventing those deaths. If you or a loved one are feeling isolated, anxious or depressed during these times of uncertainty, contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline to be connected to free and confidential support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-273-TALK.
As parents, we are responsible for keeping kids safe. Moms Demand Action volunteers advocate for the Be SMART program to reduce the number of child firearm deaths that occur when guns are not stored securely. The program asks parents and caretakers, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, to “Be SMART” and take these simple steps:
○ Secure all guns in homes and vehicles,
○ Model responsible behavior,
○ Ask about firearms in other homes your child visits,
○ Recognize the role of guns in suicide,
○ Tell your peers to Be SMART.
These are pretty easy steps we can all take to keep our kids safe. You can learn more about the Be SMART program at BeSMARTforKids.org. We are all doing what we can to prevent the spread of this virus. Let’s do everything we can to stop the epidemic of gun violence while we’re at it. The bottom line is this: Storing firearms unloaded, locked and separate from ammunition prevents access and saves lives.