I don’t pretend that I am neutral when it comes to discussions about guns. I am a pediatric nurse who lives in San Francisco, California; it's easy to figure out which side of the aisle I am standing on. But if you are a gun lover, please keep reading. I am really hoping that we can find something here that we can stand together on. It is inexplicable to me how so many issues these days have become partisan, but there MUST be some common ground. If you are a parent, regardless of how you feel about firearms, I am hoping that we can all agree that we want to keep our children safe.
I was recently approached by Krystal, a mom in our practice who is involved in a program called Be Smart For Kids. This group is tackling the gun safety issue.
I was startled by the statistics. The Centers for Disease Control has stated that firearm-related deaths from homicide, suicide or unintentional injury remain one of the top three causes of death for American children. Every year, hundreds of children in this country gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. This happens every 34 hours! The vast majority of these shootings happened with a gun that the child found in their own home or car. These accidents are tragic.
What is also sadly happening is that every day, at least one child takes their own life with a gun. Almost 500 American children die by gun suicide every year and the rate is climbing. More than 80% of the children who commit suicide use a gun that they found at home. Suicide attempts are often spur of the moment, feeling overwhelmed with despair situations, but those who attempt suicide with a gun more often than not, don’t get a second chance. Most of the gun suicide attempts end in death.
Be SMART's goal is to prevent children's access to firearms.
o Secure guns in homes and vehicles.
o Model responsible behavior.
o Ask about unsecured guns in other homes.
o Recognize the risks of teen suicide.
o Tell your peers to be SMART.
I am including some of the Be Smart strategies along with other information that I gathered while researching for this post.
Secure the guns
Research shows that nearly 4.6 million children live in homes with guns that are not properly stored.
The American Academy of Pediatrics defines responsible gun storage as locked, unloaded and stored separate from the ammunition. Hiding a gun is not a good solution. Kids find things. They know how to poke around in closets and drawers. Guns simply must be locked up.
If your gun is used for hunting, this should be a no brainer. If the gun is used for protection, I can understand the concern with anything that limits quick access. There is a solution! If Nurse Judy and the NRA are both in agreement with something, it must be good.
There are biometric safe options. You can access the guns within several seconds with a fingerprint. They can be programmed to open with more than one person’s fingerprints for the adults in the family. Sentry Safe - Quick Access Pistol Safe has videos on their website showing access in as little as 2-3 seconds. Barska Mini Biometric Safe also claims 2.5 second access.
Perfect would be a biometric box, but don’t let perfect get in the way of good. At the very least ammunition should be locked away in a different location.
Model responsible behavior
If you own a gun, of course teach your children all of the safety rules. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security because you think your child knows what to do if they come across a gun. The thing to remember is that kids will be kids. Study after study has found that even though kids had been taught never to touch a gun that they found and that they should instead to run to tell a grown up, most are unable to resist the temptation to handle it. Trusting your kids to do the right thing in this case is not the answer. The responsibility rests 100% on the grown ups. 20/20 has done some stories on this. 20/20 Gun Safety Clip
As one wise person says in the above clip, “You can’t educate the curiosity out of the child.”
It doesn’t help that so many of our kids are exposed to guns on television, movies and video games where people almost seem to be bulletproof.
Ask about guns
I have to confess that this never occurred to me before meeting with Krystal. I have taught a safety class for years. The topics are numerous - how to deal with a strange dog on the sidewalk, how to avoid burns, how to remove an edamame from a nostril, how to rescue your child if they are choking; discussion about guns wasn’t on the agenda. It will be from now on.
When you allow your child to leave your protective orbit and entrust them into the care of someone else, it is quite reasonable to have a routine safety list.
This is not only for a short play date. It is also an important checklist if your family is traveling and staying with relatives.
You might be surprised at the answer to the gun question. Many people might even have guns that they inherited, or used to collect and don’t think much about it. Some households don’t have young children so this isn’t an issue until you point it out.
If this conversation feels awkward, perhaps do it via email or text. Free free to blame me. ”Nurse Judy asks all of her parents to go through this safety list”….
If someone is entrusting their child to your care for a visit, feel free to front load your own safety info. They will likely appreciate it. “Just so you know...in our house there is no smoking. We do have a cat, but she will likely make herself scarce and has always been gentle. There are no guns.
Are there any food allergies that I should know about?”
Recognize the risk of teen suicide
It is essential for family members and friends of teens be on the lookout for change in mood and behavior or increased aggression. Any talk about killing themselves or statements such as “you would be better off without me” need to be taken very seriously. Contact the Suicide Prevention center for more guidance.
In children under 16 the presence of a gun in the house is a more significant risk factor than psychiatric illness. This is likely because suicidal behavior in children and adolescents of this age can be a spur of the moment choice.
We don’t always know. Some of the kids who on the outside seem to have it all together are quite troubled. Knowing the impulsiveness of teens, let’s get the gun option off the table. When children and teens can’t get access to a gun in their moment of crisis, they are much less likely to die, even if they attempt suicide by another method. In the US, children are 11 times more likely than their peers in other nations to die by gun suicide, while they are no more likely to die by other suicide method.
Tell your friends and family to be smart
Many people, like me hadn't really thought about this. I never recall asking anyone if they had a firearm before sending my children into someone's home. Sharing this info with your friends can help get this message out there. For readers in San Francisco, the Be SMART campaign has trained volunteers who can give presentations to parents' groups, PTAs/school groups, and any other interested community groups about simple strategies to help keep children safe from the risk of unsecured firearms. Please contact BeSMARTforKids@gmail.com if you would like to schedule a presentation or invite Be SMART to be part of your community safety fair or other events.
In December I was in Vietnam where there are NO guns. Even the law enforcement doesn’t carry weapons with live ammunition. There are limited situations when a special swat team has access to them, but that’s it. I know that is never going to happen here. I dream of a day when sensible, common sense conversations can take place to figure out a way to slow down the relentless violence here in our nation.
Some issues feel so big and impossible to tackle. The inability to have calm discussion about guns in this country is one of them. The Be SMART program shows that there is something measurable that YOU can do. It won’t get rid of gun violence, but it can tilt the odds for your child
We need to start somewhere. Let’s keep all of our kids safe from OUR guns.