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Local View: Be SMART about guns to prevent tragedies

From the column: "This is an issue we all need to worry about. Whether it’s your gun or not, it could be your child."

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David Fitzsimmons / Cagle Cartoons

Prior to the mass shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there had been at least 144 instances of gunfire on school grounds in 2021, according to Everytown Research and Policy. The result: 28 deaths; 84 injuries; and thousands of children, school staff, and families left to deal with the effects of being in lockdowns and worried for their lives.

The most tragic part of this uniquely American problem is not that it will most likely happen again; it's that shootings by children and teens are preventable through secure gun storage.

Throughout the U.S., an estimated 13 million households with children under 18 contain at least one gun, as the Journal of Urban Health reported in 2018. This number likely has increased with the surge in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all of these firearms are stored securely. Approximately 5.4 million children live in a household with at least one gun that is loaded and unlocked, according to researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health. And many children in gun-owning households know where the guns are stored, even when their parents don’t think they do, the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported in 2006. These young people are your neighbors, your students, and your children’s classmates.

Tragedies result when guns aren’t securely stored, including unintentional shootings, suicides, homicides, and school shootings.

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According to the U.S. Secret Service and others, when incidents of gunfire on school grounds happen, nearly 80% of the time the guns used by shooters under 18 were obtained from their home or from the homes of their relatives or friends.

This is an issue we all need to worry about. Whether it’s your gun or not, it could be your child. Adults — gun owners and non-gun owners alike — have the responsibility to take simple steps to prevent tragedies. It is always an adult’s responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns.

Many shootings by children and teens can be prevented by storing guns securely: Guns should be stored unloaded, locked, and separated from ammunition.

The Be SMART educational program (besmartforkids.org) provides tools to raise awareness and to encourage good decisions regarding gun storage. Each of the letters in SMART stands for a strategy adults can take to keep kids safe.

S — Secure all guns in your homes and vehicles.

M — Model responsible behavior around guns.

A — Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes.

R — Recognize the role of guns in suicide.

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T — Tell your peers to be SMART.

Everyone who cares about the safety of our schools can play a part in preventing gun violence by sharing this information. Making sure guns are always stored locked and unloaded to prevent access by children and teens is one critical part of the solution to keeping our schools safe.

Rosie Loeffler-Kemp is a parent and the elected representative of District 1 in eastern Duluth on the Duluth School Board. Sarah Mikesell of Duluth is a parent and a volunteer with the Minnesota chapter of the nonprofit Minnesota Moms Demand Action (momsdemandaction.org).

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