Okay, real talk, America. We are all scared. We are all scrambling to get our shit done every day by the time we fall asleep on the couch in a heap of exhaustion at night. Many of us are working from home, attempting to hold conference calls while small people interrupt to ask for snacks. We are homeschooling, and potty-training, and monitoring our kids’ Snaps and Tik-Toks and text conversations. Many of us and our significant others are “essential employees” and are still going out into this unstable world every day. And many of us are home, without pay, and are worried about what’s going to happen when the money and the food runs out.
There is so much worry and so much stress. We know. But there is something every family in America needs to make sure of—right now—especially with our kids at home all day long, often unsupervised. And that is ensuring all guns are safely and securely stored out of our children’s reach.
It may not surprise you to hear that since COVID-19 took hold of the world, gun and ammunition sales have increased. In times of uncertainty, it often gives people a false sense of security to run out and purchase a gun. That’s what 19-year-old Anthony Padilla, from Albuquerque, NM thought. Reports say Padilla told detectives he was arming himself for protection amid the COVID-19 scare. Instead, tragedy struck when he didn’t think the gun was loaded, so as a joke he pointed the gun at his 13-year old cousin and pulled the trigger.
Now a 13-year old boy is dead, and a 19-year old, barely an adult himself, has been charged with his murder.
Just recently, on March 17, a three-year-old boy in Lexington, KY unintentionally shot and killed himself after gaining access to an unsecured gun in the home. Both of his parents were home at the time.
The truth is, these stories are not rare. They are not the exception. We’re only a few months into 2020, and according to Everytown for Gun Safety, there have already been 58 unintentional shootings by children this year alone. Those shootings resulted in 16 deaths and 44 injuries. Kids like 13-year old Patricio Arroyo and a tiny three-old toddler having their lives cut short because people think they are safer with guns lying around. They’re not.
And accidental gun injuries aren’t the only concern in this unprecedented time of crisis. We also need to talk about how this pandemic has cut us off from the world. How is that impacting your kids? Do you have tweens or teens prone to depression or mental illness? Are you checking in with them regularly?
“A national survey of high school students found that 17% had seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year,” says Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “And 41% of adolescents in gun-owning homes say they have easy access to the guns in their homes.”
Those numbers are terrifying.
Imagine a teen who has already thought about ending it all, who feels like there is no other option. Now they cannot see their friends. Or that one teacher who might be a lifeline—a beacon of hope in the darkness. They are stuck at home with stressed-out parents who leave them to self-entertain most of the day as they are busy working and managing life during this unstable time.
Now imagine that same kid has access to a firearm.
So whether you’ve been a gun owner for years, or you just ran out to grab a weapon to have on hand during this pandemic, there is a crucial question you need to ask yourself: Are my firearms safely and securely locked and stored out of my children’s reach?
“It’s more important than ever that parents who are gun owners are thinking about how their guns are stored,” Watts tells Scary Mommy. “Having that honest conversation with themselves about well-being and taking appropriate precautions to keep guns secured could mean the difference between life and death in their families.”
If you aren’t sure how to have that honest conversation with yourself, the Be SMART campaign is a quick, simple resource that can help:
Secure all guns in your homes and vehicles.
Model responsible behavior around guns.
Ask about unsecured guns in other homes.
Recognize the role of guns in suicide.
Tell your peers to Be SMART.
SMART adults protect kids by storing guns locked, unloaded and separately from ammunition, and by making sure children are never in the presence of unsecured guns.
Not “hidden” under the bed. Or on top of a dresser. Or in a drawer. Or a closet. That is not smart. Or safe.
We have to be the smart, responsible adults in the house. Watts warns that we cannot rely on our kids to “just know better” or trust them to “stay out of trouble.” Not when it comes to firearms. Because one mistake is all it takes. “Studies show that over and over again,” she says. “Even when you tell kids to not touch a weapon, particularly among boys, their curiosity gets the best of them.”
Especially now. I don’t know about your house, but in mine, I find myself telling my kids over and over throughout the day to “go play” or “go read” or “go watch iPad” or “go…” do something, because I am working from home. Americans all over the country are in that same boat right now. Kids in every state across the nation are suddenly home, unexpectedly, for the foreseeable future. And homeschooling or not, the vast majority are left to entertain themselves for large portions of the day. And while that’s great for imaginative play and sibling bonding and cartwheels in the backyard and board games in the basement, it’s also a time for them to be bored and take risks they may not normally take. Or to explore nooks and crannies of your house they may not normally investigate.
This is our job, parents. Our toddlers needs us to protect them from finding a gun and accidentally shooting themselves. Our younger children need us to protect them from finding a gun during a game of hide-and-seek and pulling the trigger. And our tweens and teens need us to protect them from their own inner demons and feelings of hopelessness—feelings they could try to end by suicide if they have access to a firearm.
“Millions of children live in homes with an unsecured firearm in America,” Watts says. “And the last thing anyone wants in this crisis is for a child to get a hold of an unsecured gun and hurt themselves or someone else. This is a time of incredible stress, and having loaded, unlocked guns in your home is a recipe for disaster.”