Each month – my station does something really cool… we choose one topic and each reporter does an in-depth story about that topic. Most stations reserve these types of ‘special’ pieces for ratings period, but we do this every month. This month, the topic is family safety. That includes poison, domestic violence, car seat safety, sleeping safety, elder safety, and in my case, firearm safety in the home.
Throwing a bunch of numbers up on a screen is usually a sure-fast way to put people to sleep, but that’s not the case for this story. “Tennessee does have a dis proportioned number of unintentional shootings involving children. According to those numbers we were 4th in the nation for unintentional shootings,” says Beth Joslin Roth with Project Safe Tennessee.
These numbers aren’t sleep-inducing, they’re sobering. From 2011 to 2015, the number of fire-arm related deaths involving children has gone up from 26 to 46. In 2016, of those 46, 2 of them were accidental, according to a report from the Tennessee Department of Health.
“Firearm-related deaths have gone up over the last 5 years, unfortunately,” says Morgan McDonald, Assistant Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Health.
But Beth Joslin Roth with the Safe Tennessee Project says ‘accidental’ is the wrong word. “Every one of those unintentional shootings of a child when they pick up a gun that an adult has left lying around is 100 percent preventable. In fact we don’t even like to use the term accident because the word accident connotes something that couldn’t be prevented, and every one of these is preventable,” says Roth.
The Department of Health releases a child fatality report every year, (full report available here: http://tn.gov/assets/entities/health/attachments/CFR_annual_report_2015.pdf) and although 2016 isn’t complete yet Roth tracks them as well. Here’s what her organization found:
In 2016, there were 22 incidents where a child under the age of 18 has picked up a loaded gun. 14 of those resulted in injuries to kids, 6 of them were fatal. “So far this year there have been a total of 5 incidents, 3 injuries and 2 fatalities,” says Roth.
So what is the solution? The Department of Health says guns in the home should be secured at all times, in a safe, unloaded and locked.
These days, every new gun purchased automatically comes with a lock. But if you still don’t have one, it’s pretty easy to obtain the right lock for you. “Keeping guns secure and out of the hands of children is not complicated,” says Roth. Buying a lock is simple, almost any retailer sells them and they’re also available online at Amazon, or by calling your local police department. Some departments in Middle Tennessee offer them for free to residents, like the Franklin Police Department.
Organizations like Project Child Safe also offer free safety kits to police departments that request them. (http://www.projectchildsafe.org/safety/find-a-safety-kit).
There are simple locks that will cost less than $10, or for those who want quick access, there are touch-access safes available. Or, you can call Roth: “If anyone wanted a gun lock and contacted my organization, I would be happy to provide them with a lock.”
But gun safety isn’t as simple as locking your weapon. Firearm instructor Buford Tune says parents need to talk to their kids. “Go to a to z with them, this is how this gun operates this is the reason you don’t do this, this is the reason you do it this way. Explain it to the complete family; the kids everybody. Have them put their phones down. Sit down, shut up and listen. Because this is going to save your life or get you killed if you don’t do it the right way,” says Tune.
Tune is with the Academy of Personal Protection and Security, he’s also a former police officer and a father. “The child should be taught that you can go tell someone there is a gun. You don’t pick it up and take it in there to them.”
Having a conversation with the parents of those kids is also smart, it can be awkward but that is a small price to pay. “Gun safety and children is an issue in our state we need to talk about.”
Because one of the biggest things these accidental shootings have in common is this: “No one thinks it can happen to them,” says McDonald.
Until it does.