We live in a state that fiercely defends the right to own firearms. Therefore, when tragedies like Sandy Hook and Columbine take place, we are deeply saddened but have a hard time believing that getting rid of our guns is the solution. One thing I think we can all agree on, however, is that kids should not have access to guns.
About a year ago the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics joined forces with a parent organization, Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, to create a safe gun storage campaign we named Bulletproof Kids. We created a mission statement that was simple and would not be offensive to gun owners: "Owning a gun is a right. Protecting children is a responsibility. Prevent youth suicide and accidental injuries. Store your guns safely."
This message is important since virtually all gun tragedies in children involve access issues. Almost a quarter of children with gun-owning parents have handled the firearms without their parents’ knowledge. Almost half of gun-owning parents keep their guns stored improperly (not locked and unloaded with ammunition stored separately).
Our goal with Bulletproof Kids is to see a decrease in youth suicide, accidental injuries, and the number of kids caught bringing guns to school. In addition, we hope that health-care providers and parents are more comfortable with discussing safe gun storage issues with each other.
Let me change your mind if you think our state does not have a problem with firearm access and children. In Utah from 2008-2012 in youths 17 years and younger, there were at least 37 firearm suicides and 43 hospitalizations related to firearms. From 2011-2012 the firearm suicide rate in this age group increased 100 percent. Firearms were involved in 40 percent of all youth suicides. Nationally suicide is the third leading cause of death in youths, but in Utah it is the second. Utah has the 11th highest young adult suicide rate and the 17th highest youth suicide rate in the U.S. Having access to an improperly stored firearm increases the risk of youth suicide fivefold. Guns are the most lethal form of suicide (85-90 percent) compared to pill ingestion or cutting (2-3 percent). Teen suicide by firearms is frequently impulsive planned only five minutes to a day before it takes place.
Bulletproof Kids has partnered with many local organizations including the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics, the Department of Health, KSL, three local gun stores, the Utah PTA and the Utah Chiefs of Police to spread this important message. As part of our campaign we have created posters and brochures that are free to health-care providers and organizations. Our website www.bulletproofkidsutah.org gives you the opportunity to "Take the pledge to store your guns safely" as well as demonstrating options for safe gun storage and advice videos. We have vowed to remain apolitical in our approach.
We need to do a better job of promoting and practicing safe gun storage in Utah. If we work together we can protect not only our own children, but those visiting our homes. By properly locking our firearms we can prevent children from bringing guns to schools and the potential tragedies that follow. Safe storage is not the answer to all the gun controversy, but it is an important part and something we can all agree on. Remember, every child is vulnerable … even yours.
Claudia Fruin is a Utah pediatrician and founder of Bulletproof Kids
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