Sunday, February 20, 2011

Asking Saves Kids

Lately there has been a good discussion here at New Trajectory about protecting children.  So I thought now would be a good time to bring up the ASK campaign.

ASK (Asking Saves Kids) is a national advertising campaign that urges parents to ask if there is a gun where their children play.  It is a program that the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation takes part in.  HERE is a link to the homepage for it.

That's it.  No new legislation suggested here, just a simple question that can save lives. 

How can it save lives?  Consider the following statistics:
  • Guns can be found in 40% of Oregon homes, and many of those guns are kept loaded and unlocked.[1]   A statistic not uncommon for the nation as a whole.
  • In the United States, nearly 1.7 million children under age 18 live in homes with firearms that are both loaded and unlocked.[2]
  • Nearly 8 children and teens in the United States are killed by firearms every day in the United States.[3]
  • One fourth of homes with children and guns have a loaded firearm, and between 6% and 14% of firearm owning households with a child under 18 have an unlocked and loaded firearm. [4]
  • More than 40% of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked. [5]
  • On average, one child every three days died in accidental incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2005. (CDC data)

Every parent has the responsibility to safeguard their children.  Knowing if lethal weapons are accessible in a home where your child is visiting and if they are stored safely is important to your child's safety, regardless of your attitude toward gun ownership.  Given that so many homes leave their guns unlocked, and even unlocked and loaded, this is a potentially life-and-death decision for your child. 

But don't think this is some sort of inquisition into the private life of others.  It's normal and expected for parents to ask critical questions the first time their child visits, and it doesn't have to be confrontational or judgmental.   If you are a responsible parent, you ask about whether prescription medicines are stored locked or out of reach, whether knives are out of reach, or whether the kids will be out of parental supervision at any time.  If the caregiver or other parent is driving, you ask about car seats.  So, too, you should ask if guns are present.  And not just for small children; this goes for homes with teenagers, too.

If the answer is "No, no guns are present," it's one less thing you need to worry about.  If the answer is "Yes," then you can inquire about how the weapons are stored, whether they are locked and unloaded, if they are stored out of reach in a safe or lockbox with ammo stored separately, or if they have a gun lock attached.  If it bothers you that there are guns there at all, or if they are stored unsafely, you can always ask that your child's friend come over to your home instead, or schedule a play date elsewhere, like a park.

Though it is not exactly part of the ASK program, I would also like to add that if you are a gun owner, it is your responsibility to answer truthfully when other parents ask these questions.  And even if they do not ask, I argue, it is a morally imperative that you mention to the other parent that you have firearms in the home and the steps you've taken to safeguard them.  You'll find that most people are appreciative of it, even if they are advocates for stricter gun control.  I have friends who are gun owners, for instance, and I am happy to have my children play at their home with their children because I am satisfied that their weapons are stored in a locked safe and that my children will be supervised adequately to protect them.

If you wish for help in starting a conversation, or would like to help spread the word about the ASK program, please contact the Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation at 503.220.1669 or

UPDATE:  6/5/11:  I published an article on the ASK campaign in the June 2011 issue of Metro-Parent Magazine.  See page 28:

Statistics sources:
  1. Data as of 2004, the latest year for which these data are available. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Oregon data available at
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, September 2005
  3. Data as of 2003, the latest year for which these data are available. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, available at
  4. Johnson, Renee M., MPH, Tamera Coyne-Beasley, MD, MPH, and Carol W. Runyan, PhD. “Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27 (2004): 173-82
  5. Schuster, Mark A., Franke, Todd M., Bastian, Amy M., Sor, Sinaroth, Halfon, Neal. "Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes With Children," American Journal of Public Health 90(4) (April 2000):588-594


  1. This strikes me as primarily a propaganda piece. Guns in the home are not nearly the biggest hazard-but this is phrased as 'ask about guns--oh, and to be fair if you think of any other hazards ask about them, too' as if guns were the biggest risk.

    What is the advantage to unloading a gun that will be locked up, and does it offset the extra risk of loading and unloading guns repeatedly? How should self-defense be handled if all guns are to be unloaded and separate from ammo?

  2. Sorry you're so jaded, Sevesteen, and that you don't see the value of asking about the dangers in a home, including guns. My point is not propaganda, as I did not here endorse other gun control issues. My point is that this is an important question for parents to ask, among the others they ask.

    I'm not going off on your tangent about the defensive value, or lack of, regarding having an unloaded weapon.

  3. Thirdpower...again on top of this issue. We need to get more kids into the Eddie the Eagle program. I know Baldr would agree, education is a good thing and the NRA has some of the best. Great topic.

  4. The NRA's Eddie the Eagle program is fine, but the Speak Up! program is better. The message is the same (telling children not to approach or touch guns that they find and to tell an adult), except the Speak Up! program doesn't also advocate for guns in the home as the NRA does.

    The Speak Up! program is run by PAX (

  5. Baldr, I'm sorry your so jaded against gun owners. I just can't support PAX, its seem like the program is designed to foster hate and suspicion against gun owners. The Eddie the Eagle program as well as training through the Boy Scouts and other organizations helps address curiosity by getting children into the shooting sports in a controlled and safe manner. We all know that riding in a car is very dangerous for kids but we don't pry into other families, its only common sense.

  6. Anonymous, you are either trying to smear a program (PAX) which calls for increased gun safety, or are ignorant of their goals.

    When I was a teenager, a friend of mine killed himself with his family's Colt .45 revolver. He and I both had been trained in gun safety by the Boy Scouts.

  7. Baldr,

    No offense to your friend but if both of you had been trained in gun safety; why him and not you?

    Have you had any friends commit suicide using any other methods?

    Time and time again people want to blame the tool but do you really think that not having a firearm is going to stop someone from committing suicide?

  8. Anonymous, A few years later (at 16) I became depressed and suicidal, too, so I can attest to the mindset. By that point there were no longer guns in my home (they had been stolen), but if there were I might have been tempted. I almost committed suicide by drowning, but that takes a great deal more effort than simply pulling a trigger. Luckily, he was the only friend or relative of mine who committed suicide or tried to do so, as far as I know.

    I don't "blame the tool" for my friend's death. The gun was just an artfully-crafted death machine, as designed, and an inanimate object. I feel the blame was on his parents, who made the gun accessible to him, and on all of those around him (including myself) for not realizing he was suicidal and taking action to prevent it.

  9. Current Portland ordinance does NOT state how to store firearms. It simply states that if a minor gains access to a gun without gaining permission first (to hunt with parents for example) then the gun owner is criminally liable unless the gun was locked up, the premises were broken into or the gun was being used by the minor in self defense. So basically, a gun owner can keep a gun anywhere but must take responsibility if a minor accesses the gun without permission.

    The actual ordinance goes into more detail.

    It's all about the gun owners taking responsibility.

  10. I started asking about guns in friends' houses when my son was in grade school, and I kept it up for a long time. What I noticed was that when a few parents started asking, more joined in the practice -- we helped make it the norm in my neighborhood. I wouldn't forbid my son to play in a house with a gun, but I would want to know that it was properly stored and kids didn't have access to it. Seemed like a sensible precaution, and the gun owners didn't take offense.

    I also made him a standing offer. If any of his friends ever took out a gun, or offered to show him one, and he came home or called me immediately, I'd give him $50 cash on the spot.