I grew up in the 80s in the South. I’m sure this one sentence alone has brought to you, dear reader, a stereotypical image of a barefoot southern girl sitting on a porch drinking sweet tea and sorely lacking in education. That image couldn’t be further from the truth. I received an excellent education although unsweet tea and shoes are still questionable.
The daughter of an ex-navy man, I was raised to respect and understand the dangers a firearm can pose. I was taught to take care of a sidearm, to always use it with caution and to never ever point it at something I didn’t intend to shoot. That understanding was ingrained in me at a young age.
The first gun that my dad let me shoot was a bb gun. It was probably a Red Ryder Daisy (insert “you’ll shoot your eye out” jokes here*) and we spent summer afternoons in the backyard shooting little targets. That’s when I learned the importance of proper aim (well, we can thank Nintendo’s Duck Hunt for that as well), of aiming only at your target and never anything or anyone else.
The bb gun in the sleepy suburban backyard soon became the .22 at the range. I had graduated from bb gun to a .22 Colt revolver (still one of the sweetest guns I’ve ever fired) when I was about 10. After a few trips to the range, my dad decided it was time for me to have my own handgun. I was 12 and he purchased a .22 browning semiautomatic. Over 20 years later, I still have this gun and it is one of the most important things I own. Not because it’s a handgun for protection but because it’s my first gun. It’s the gun my dad got me. It’s the gun that I can’t replace because it means more than just protection.
I wasn’t alone in this upbringing; most of my friends had parents who hunted or were ex-servicemen and most of them learned gun safety early on. But that doesn’t mean accidents didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean kids left their parents’ guns alone. Kids were still shot playing with them and guns still wound up in lockers of schools.
In the early 90s my hometown saw a massive increase in juvenile crime and guns in schools. The first (and I should add only) fatal school shooting happened in 1994 when an unsecured handgun was brought to a school and used in an argument.
The boys were 13 and lives were forever changed.
I mention this story to show that kids getting unsecured handguns is nothing new. This story happened 25 years ago, and it reads as if it could happen today. Kid gets handgun that wasn’t secured. Kids get into an argument. One kid shoots the other.
As much as we adults try to convince ourselves that our kids have learned how to handle a gun, they’ve learned how dangerous they can be, that they understand safety rules, we need to convince ourselves that children are curious. Children might not always listen. Children might not always think clearly or understand how to react to certain situations. They might not understand consequences.
We parents, aunts, uncles, and guardians can claim that we’ve taken the right steps to make sure our kids are safe. The gun is where they can’t get it – up high, in a cabinet, under a mattress, somewhere they won’t look. My kid knows better. Kids are, as I previously mentioned, curious. They want to hold things, to learn about them, to touch and feel what they are and understand the way the world works. Guns are cool, interesting, dangerous. They show how tough someone is.
It is up to us as adults to make sure that our kids are safe, that they don’t have access to unsecured firearms, that they don’t find one and ruin lives. Secure firearm storage is the only solution.
Safes come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. In this day and age, there’s really no excuse not to have a safe. From Aldi to Amazon, eBay to Walmart, you can purchase a safe or secure storage item almost anywhere. But securing firearms shouldn’t just be a priority in our own homes. We must make sure that others around us know the importance of securing guns and keeping them out of the wrong hands.
June 4th was declared National SAFE Day in 2016 in honor of Brooklynn Mae Mohler who was shot and killed by an unsecured firearm she and her friend found. SAFE Day serves as an important reminder that secure gun storage is needed to keep children safe for the dangers of an unlocked and loaded gun. SAFE Stands for:
- Secure all firearms.
- Ask if there are unsecured firearms in the homes your kids visit.
- Frequently discuss the dangers of firearms with your children.
- Educate and empower others to be SAFE.
In honor of National SAFE Day, I want to discuss the A in the acronym.
Ask the parents of your child’s friends if they have unsecured guns in their home. It sounds easy at first but, upon reflection, seems intimidating, intrusive even. How can you ask that question?
- Be blunt. Ask, “Are there unsecured firearms in your home?” If they say yes, you can make the decision of if your child can visit that house. You can ask where they are even. It also serves as an opportunity to encourage that parent/guardian to invest in a safe.
- Treat the situation like you would a discussion about allergies – For example, “my child is allergic to this… do you have allergy medication available if he loses his?” You can say, “Do you have any guns in your home? Are they secure so we can make sure the kids can’t get them?”
- Be casual and friendly, “I’m sure you do this already but, you securely store your guns, right? I just want to be sure since our kids are doing a slumber party.”
There’s nothing wrong with asking. You’re not being nosy or intrusive. If someone gets offended by asking a question that’s important to the safety of your child, perhaps you should rethink the relationship.
We can’t really use the argument of “teach your kid to be smart around guns.” As a kid, I was curious (ok nosey) and I could still tell you where almost anything was in the house. I was an expert at finding my Christmas presents every year. Kids find things; never assume they won’t. My parents took every precaution to make sure I understood the dangers a gun can pose. But, at the end of the day, they still realized that even though I was an honor student I was still a dumb kid. My dad invested in a safe the year I was born and made sure that his guns were always in it.
As much as we want to think that our kids know better, we must remind ourselves that they’re still just kids. They have their lives ahead of them and they’re still learning and growing. They haven’t fully experienced consequences for actions. They don’t fully comprehend the gravity of certain situations yet. It’s up to us as their parents, guardians, aunts, and uncles to take that moment to guide them and to make sure they stay safe. It’s vital that we all securely store our guns so that they never fall into the wrong hands.
*There are some HILARIOUS bb gun stories in my house. My favorite is the time my dad was home and saw a hornet had gotten in the house. After several not-so-awesome encounters with hornets, my dad noped right out of any room he saw the hornet in. After it landed on the laundry room window, he saw it as a chance to exterminate the hornet. Yeah, you see where this is going. He was alone in the house (my mom and I had gone shopping) so he picked up the unloaded bb gun and put some paper in the barrel. He took aim and fired. The paper shot through both panes of glass and left my dad in complete shock. “What did you think would happen?” my mother later asked. He couldn’t respond. We did find the hornet though, alive and well. The hole in the window was taped on both sides with duct tape, forever serving as a reminder of why one shouldn’t fire any type of gun at insects in the house.
AUTHOR: M. PHILLIPS