Opinion | Susan Knopf: Child deaths from unsafe gun storage are completely preventable
For the Record
It happens. The question is, Why does it happen? If we all did our jobs it wouldn’t happen at all.
In 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 779 Coloradans died from firearms. That’s not homicides. The CDC says 261 died in homicides. For the record, CDC reports in that same year 179 American children and young adults ages 1-24 died from the accidental discharge of a gun, very often in a home.
The Associated Press and USA Today say they did their own research and found “During the first six months of (2016), minors died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day.”
Accidents happen. But I think of an accident as something you could not foresee, something you could not prevent. An unsecured gun is not an accident waiting to happen, it’s more like an open bear trap sitting in the middle of the family room with your child’s favorite toy set right in the middle of it.
I’m not being preachy. I’ve walked the walk. My husband is a hunter and firearms enthusiast. We always had guns in our home. When the kids came along, we upped our security. Guns were secured.
I knew. I babysat some neighbor boys. As I entered their family room, a long gun was leaning against the wall and ammunition was spilled over the floor. I told my neighbor, a family friend, that I couldn’t babysit with the gun out. She said, “Oh I told Parker (her husband) to put that away. The boys like playing with the ammunition.”
I insisted she put it all away and out of reach. She thought I was a bit of a nut. But I thought she was crazy. Her oldest was about 6. His daddy hunts. Westerns and combat shows were the rage on TV in those days. How hard could it be for a 6-year-old to imitate his dad, the TV and load a gun? Not that hard.
USA Today reports a 2-year-old shot herself with a 20-gauge shotgun left laying on a table. The babysitter was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The USA Today story lists tragic cases. A 5 year-old found a loaded pistol under her grandparents’ pillow and died after she shot herself in the neck. The 65-year-old Detroit grandparents faced manslaughter and weapons charges, and could have gone to prison for 17 years.
In 2016, a 3-year-old in Steamboat Springs allegedly managed to climb up in his dad’s closet and pull down a loaded gun stored in a bag, according to a report in the Steamboat Pilot. His dad, a police officer, was commanded to store his weapons safely out of reach of children. The officer’s child died of self-inflicted wounds, while Dad was building a deck and Mom attended a 6-month-old sibling.
When our children came along, guns were locked up, and ammo locked separate from weapons. That’s what pediatricians and a host of other organizations recommend you do. Today is National ASK Day. Asking Saves Kids. The organization recommends you ask the responsible adult in any home your child visits, “Do you have a gun? How is it secured? Are guns and ammunition securely stored separately?” If you don’t like the answers, if the person can’t answer the questions, ASK recommends you keep your child safely out of possible harm’s way.
ASK says one in three homes with children has a gun. ASK estimates 1.7 million children live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun. Don’t let this preventable tragedy befall you or your loved ones. It may seem inappropriate to ask friends about their guns, but better to ask than to become a statistic.
Susan Knopf’s column For the Record publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf is an award-winning journalist. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013. You can reach her at SDNKnopf@gmail.com.
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