Gun Violence Prevention: Our Responsibility

by Jonathan Dickman,  MD, PhD
In April, a second grade student brought his parent’s gun to my son’s school. Luckily, nobody was hurt. The principal took all the correct steps and removed the gun from his possession. This incident shook many parents who never thought that this could happen at our children’s school. Now it has become clear that we all need to take responsibility to prevent the next school shooting tragedy. As this was only a seven year old child, this incident speaks more to adults needing to be more diligent about gun violence prevention. In this article, the recommendations from Be SMART (besmartforkids.org) are reviewed, but please also consider visiting their website for further information on how to keep guns out of our schools.
The first step is to secure all guns in homes and vehicles. It is not enough to hide the gun and hope nobody will find it. Think of candy that is hidden in our cupboards — kids eventually find it. Hiding a gun was not enough to keep a seven year old child from finding and bringing his parent’s loaded gun to school. Guns need to be kept unloaded and locked in the house or car at all times. Bullets need to be kept in a separate locked location. No exceptions. Although the second-grader should take some of the responsibility for his actions, the fact that this gun was not kept locked and unloaded by his parent in the household was simply unacceptable.
The second step is to remember to discuss and model responsible behavior regarding guns. Children do not instinctively understand how to manage a firearm when they discover one in the home; we must educate them about gun safety. The second-grader did not understand the consequences of bringing the gun to school. He was reportedly showing it to his friends and likely had no idea the fear it would invoke in families and that it would result in his dismissal from the school. Likely, this could have been prevented if time was taken to educate him regarding appropriate behaviors around guns.
The next step is to ask others in the community whether they have firearms and, if so, whether the guns are kept locked and unloaded. As a physician, it is my responsibility to ask this question to patients in the clinic. As a neighbor, it is my responsibility to ask others in my neighborhood. As a parent, it is my responsibility to ask the parents of my children’s friends. Being silent about proper gun storage puts our children at risk. I learned a lesson in April: it is no longer safe to be silent about gun violence prevention. Keeping the gun a secret in the home and not talking about gun violence prevention can result in unwanted effects.
The fourth step is to understand the role guns have on suicide. Suicide is the most common unintended result of owning a gun. As a physician, I understand that suicide is a very impulsive act and having a gun at home provides an easy method to act on this impulse. Guns are often kept in the home with the intent to provide protection to the gun owner and their family. There is no evidence to support that guns are protective and, unfortunately, it is clear that gun ownership can result in tragic, unintended consequences. The most common target of a gun is the owner of the gun or one of their loved ones. If you own a gun with the intent of protecting your family, I ask you to reevaluate whether you really want a gun in your home. There are other more effective methods of keeping loved ones safe.
Finally, talk about the above steps and the Be SMART program with others. If you visit besmartforkids.org and select “resources,” you will find videos and tools that will help deepen your understanding of how to play your part in gun violence prevention. In April, I learned that gun violence could happen at any school. Now is the time to discuss this topic together and to actively try to prevent the next tragedy. Please join me by taking the steps discussed above to help make our community a safer place.

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