Forty years ago I was a middle school teacher in a rural regional school district in Western Massachusetts. Many of my students came from families in which hunting and sport shooting were part of normal family life. In season, for some of these families, game was an important supplemental food source. Parents generally were good at teaching their children gun safety. And yet, kids are kids, and access to guns can bring tragedy.
One morning I arrived at school to the news that one of my students from the previous year had accidentally shot and killed his brother as they were playing with a gun on their front porch. There had been no harm intended. There was no animosity between the brothers. And, yet, in an instant, one life ended and the other was changed forever.
If that gun had been securely locked up, tragedy might well have been averted. I knew the parents of this family. They were good parents. They never have would dreamed that this shooting could happen. I doubt that they were at all conscious of the risk to their children that their unlocked gun represented.
According to the Brady Center, 1 in 3 homes with children have guns. Many of these guns are stored unlocked and loaded. 3 in 4 children ages 5-14 know where firearms are kept in their home. 80% of unintentional firearm deaths of kids under 15 occur in the home.
The Brady Center has created a gun safety campaign using one-on-one conversations between parents as well as social media to save kids’ lives. The ‘Ask Campaign’ is based on one question: “Is there an unlocked gun in your home where my child plays?”
It is a tremendously important question for the parent who asks it and the parent who is asked. In our polarized society there is, of course, some risk in asking that question. It may be taken solely as an accusation or understood only as a political statement against gun ownership. It is neither. The question recognizes that we need to keep our children safe. The question asked by one parent to another can be a little awkward, but the deeper reality is that it shows concern for the precious lives of all our children. And it can raise awareness of a safety issue that even a good parent may just not have thought about. The Ask Campaign is fundamentally about parents helping parents.
I often wonder if, back in 1975, the parents of my students had been having the conversation with one another about unlocked guns in the places their children played, might that shooting death never have happened. I can never know for sure. I do know, now, that such conversations may well prevent future tragic shootings and future loss of life.
For more information on the Brady Center program, “Asking Saves Lives” visit http://www.bradycampaign.org/our-impact/campaigns/asking-saves-kids
The Right Reverend James E Curry, Bishop Suffragan, retired
Episcopal Church in Connecticut