Troutdale, OR, Seattle, WA and Isla Vista, CA—these are just a few of the 74 school shootings since the Newtown, CT shooting. It seems like everywhere I look lately, there are mentions of guns or shootings. As a health care provider/health communicator, as a human, and especially as a mother, it bothers me. I am a bit embarrassed to admit, however, that the news reports shock me less and less. I have become “accustomed” to hearing about another school shooting or accident involving a child in a home with guns who has been disabled or killed simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I use the word “accustomed,” because it doesn’t make me any less sad or outraged, I am simply not as surprised.
Yesterday morning my children, ages 4 and 6, were playing with their Texo building kit (a great toy—kind of like a modern version of Lincoln Logs) and my son came into the room to “shoot me” with a gun he had made. He was especially proud of the mini twin gun he had made with the smaller pieces. I’m a bit of a helicopter mom, but I do understand that children play guns. I did not understand where mine learned about guns—probably at school or on a playground, and I realized I did not understand if they really knew what a gun was, or the damage a real one could do.
I decided there’s no time like the present, and launched into an explanation of what a gun is, explaining that we never EVER in real life play with guns, and asserting that guns can hurt and kill.
The Children’s Defense Fund says that by the time a child is 1-year-old, they are able to squeeze the trigger of a gun. It’s never too early to practice gun safety in the home. It’s also never too early to start taking about gun safety. It is a matter of life and death. As health communicators, we have an opportunity to educate the public about gun safety, regardless of whether there is an actual gun in one’s home. Guns end the lives of seven children and teens every day in America, and the first step to lowering that number (to zero) is communicating—openly and honestly—about the role guns play in today’s society. Gun safety is not just about hunting, or Second Amendment rights, or urban violence, or mental health. It’s a public health issue that is often dwarfed by rhetoric. We need to change the conversation.
I do not keep a gun in my home, but 1 in 3 children live in a home with a gun, and according to the Children’s Defense Fund, more than 40 percent of gun-owning households with children store their guns unlocked.
Politics and mental health aside (and those are definitely huge players in this game), our children deserve better. No child should have access to a gun, accidentally or otherwise. A gun in the home increases the risk of homicide, suicide, and accidental death. If there are no guns in your home, please educate your children:
- Guns are not toys
- Do not ever pick up a gun
And when your child goes to a friend’s or relative’s home, find out if they have guns and if they are stored safely.
- Educate your children about them
- Always keep guns and ammunition in separate, locked locations; gun safes are the best place to store a gun because they require a 6-digit combination before it will open
Jennifer Durst graduated from the Augsburg Physician Assistant Program in Minneapolis, MN in 1998. She practiced as a PA-C until May 2014. She began her career in urgent care, and since 2003 had been working in St. Paul, MN in a busy otolaryngology practice. Jennifer is pursuing a Master of Science in Health Communication at Boston University. She will graduate in August 2014 and is contemplating her next career move. She would love to combine her passion for clinical medicine with her love for health communication.