Saturday, June 21, 2014

ASKing About Guns Where Your Children Play

Today, June 21, is National ASK Day.  Asking Saves Kids.

As responsible parents, we must ask the difficult questions for our children's safety when they visit a new place for the first time:  Will there always be someone with them?  Are the medicines locked up? Are there guns in the home?

And if there are guns, how are they stored?

As you can see in the graphic to the right, the statistics are shocking.  In many areas, including Oregon, 30-40% of homes with guns also have children, and a disturbing number of them, around 42%, don't lock them up!

Consider, for instance, the recent school shooting in Oregon.  The15-year old shooter got the AR-15 assault rifle, high-capacity ammo magazines, and handgun from under his brother's bed and from his brother's closet.

HERE is a previous blog post with some relevant statistics about children and guns.  For instance:

1 in 4 kids and teens whose parents own guns say they have seen or touched a gun without their parents’ knowledge.
Almost 90 percent of accidental shootings involving children are linked to an easy-to-find, loaded handgun in the house.

88% of the children who are injured or killed in unintentional shootings are shot in their own homes or in the homes of relatives or friends.
HERE is a previous blog post that compares parents' perceptions about guns in the home compared the reality shown by statistics.  It's shocking how underestimated the danger is.

With all of this in mind, Oregon's governor, John Kitzhaber, declared today ASKING SAVES KIDS DAY in Oregon.  Thank you, Governor Kitzhaber.

Personally, I feel guns and children simply don't mix.  Children are naturally curious and impetuous -- even the best kids.  And they have a knack for getting into places that we don't think they can, figuring out passwords and combinations, and finding keys.  Unless the lock is fingerprint-controlled, perhaps, no amount of locking of things will truly keep them out forever.

HERE is a good article and news video, where a mother here in Oregon talks about the issue and how important it is, and another woman discusses how she has to live every day with the guilt of her young friend dying from handling an unlocked gun.

HERE is another mother and gun owner, whose 13-year old son was in a sleepover when a friend picked up an unsecured, loaded gun and unintentionally shot her son to death.  In her words:
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.
Since Noah's death, I've learned that nine kids are shot unintentionally every day. I want people to understand that it's very important to practice gun safety if you own guns, and to ask each other if there are unlocked guns where a child may visit or play. As parents, we do so many other things to ensure our children's safety. We use car seats, seat belts, and put childproof caps on medicine. We keep knives out of their reach. We hold their hands when crossing the street. 

Learn from my pain. If you are a gun owner, lock and store your guns properly and don't assume kids will be mature and do the right thing. Don't be offended if someone asks you if your guns are locked and stored properly. And, most importantly, every parent should know that you have the right to ask if there is a gun where your child visits or plays. That one question may save your child's life.
The gun guys suggest that if we only "demystify" guns to children, by allowing them to handle them, the kids will become less curious and "safe."  But they have zero data to support them on this.  There are, however, plenty of data and psychological reports to suggest that children simply can't help themselves, even when they know it is wrong, particularly for boys.  The allure that these "bang machines" bring, combined with a gun-saturated society, makes for a deadly combination.  See the recent 20/20 expose, "Young Guns," to see how this is true (HERE is an excerpt).

This week, in Vancouver, Washington, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence put up a table and invited park-goers to learn about ASK, with a number of local political figures present as well:

The Asking Saves Kids campaign (ASK) wants parents to ask other parents if there are guns in their house and if they’re securely locked before allowing their children to go over and play.
“Make sure that they’re locked up in a safe and/or with some kind of a locking device and make sure the ammunition is stored separately,” said Heidi Yewman of the ASK campaign.
The local kickoff effort was held at Esther Short Park in Vancouver. Area officials, including Washington State Sen. Annette Cleveland, Rep. Jim Moeller, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Police Chief James McElvain attended.
But pro-gun activists don't like the ASK campaign.  The deaths of innocents are too inconvenient for their "guns in all places" propaganda, and openly oppose safe storage of guns around children.  They held an "open carry" counter-rally in the same park to protest it, handguns on their hips, handing out pro-gun literature.   Why?  One "open carry" activist thinks his sense of privacy outweighs the safety of your children:
Rick Halle joined members of the Open Carry group in Vancouver and says he leads the Guns Rights Coalition in Washington.
"It's a privacy issue. ... If you're having to ask this you should question whether you're letting your children play there in the first place." Halle said. "That's something I don't want to answer … that's my personal deal. I don't think anybody else needs to know where I keep my firearms."
Pro-gun activists have even told me that, if asked, they would lie to the parents and say they don't have any guns in the home, simply because they feel their privacy is invaded!

More commonly, pro-gun activists oppose safe storage of guns because they feel that the few moments it takes to unlock and load a gun can make the difference if a rapist, druggy, gang member breaks into their home.  But the chance that your child will shoot themselves with your gun is FAR higher than the chance that you'd need to use that gun to defend yourself against a home invader.  I say the few seconds is worth the life of my child!  Nevermind that there are quick-release gun boxes, which use fingerprint recognition and open in less than a second, for a very reasonable price (less than the cost of the gun itself).  HERE is one, for instance.  As the San Antonio police chief recently put it
"If you say, 'Well, I've got to have my gun out and accessible because someone may break into my home,' that's not an excuse," he said. "Try using that excuse if your child gets a hold of it. (It's) not going to fly."

If you have a gun in your home and have children, if you feel you absolutely must have it, then lock it up.

And, whether you are a gun owner or not, and you have children, ask about guns in the homes where they visit.  It's quick and simple, and it can save their life!  As one author put it, "We can't be gun-shy when it comes to our kids."  Visit the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation page for ASK to get help on how to start the conversation: