We can start to end this war by safely storing firearms and asking about unsecured guns in the home where our children go to play.
Our country is entrenched in a battle for our children, and we are losing them to one of the deadliest opponents we’ve ever faced: gun violence. Gun violence recently became the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents. My son Ethan is a casualty in this war. Too young to be a soldier at only 15 years old, he was shot and killed on American soil.
Six years ago, my beautiful boy was shot in the head at his best friend’s house. His friend’s father stored his three handguns and ammunition in a shoebox. We later learned that Ethan’s friend, who had just passed the NRA safety course and grew up with guns, had been regularly accessing and showing his teenage friends unsecured guns for over six months.
Every day, more American families are given the life-shattering news that their child has been shot and killed. This conflict is ravaging our communities and our homes, yet our kids are not draped in the flag as they are lowered into the ground, no one is visiting us and thanking our children for their service and some lawmakers don’t even look us in the eye when they tell us, “Sorry for your loss.” A war is being waged on our children, and our grief is so uncomfortable that people look away.
Ethan’s death was not an outlier, as Dr. Joseph Sakran can tragically tell you. He knows because he treats hundreds of gun violence victims as a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He knows because—over and over again—he has to deliver the same kind of horrific, life-shattering news to parents and families like mine.
Locking all household firearms could reduce firearm suicide and unintentional firearm fatalities among youth by up to 32 percent.
We both joined the movement to prevent gun violence because of personal tragedy. Sakran was 17 years old when he was nearly killed after being shot in the throat after a high school football game. This has inspired his professional career in medicine and led to his role as chief medical officer at Brady, where he is the only physician and gun violence survivor to chair a national gun violence organization.
And we both want to see an end to the carnage that is decimating communities in this uniquely American public health crisis.
Many of the tragedies killing our children are the result of careless storage of firearms, lethal weapons that should be treated as such. Over 4.6 million children in America live in a home with access to an unlocked or unsupervised firearm. And one in five children have handled guns in the home without their parent’s knowledge. As a result, eight children a day are killed or injured by unintentional shootings—a type of “family fire,” or a tragedy resulting from unsecured access to guns. Family fire killed Ethan, despite being entirely preventable.
We only need to look at other successful public health-related social movements to chart the way. Just as we started asking friends if they were “safe to drive” after drinking, we can foster norms like encouraging parents and guardians to ask about access to unlocked guns during playdates. This war started because our culture upholds a love for firearms without equal respect for responsible gun ownership. The gun industry fired the first shot by marketing guns to kids and teens, portraying these lethal weapons as exciting and seductive. The NRA and gun lobby supported their troops by opposing common-sense solutions, like Ethan’s Law, which would require gun owners to store their weapons safely. Sixty-five percent of gun owners are providing aid to the enemy because they don’t securely lock all of their firearms.
If someone came to you, knowing there was a way to put an end to the war on our children, would you help? We know ending family fire starts with safe storage. Locking all household firearms could reduce firearm suicide and unintentional firearm fatalities among youth by up to 32 percent.
Peace will come when we start to change our behavior around access to guns. We can end this war if we start asking about unsecured guns in the home where our children go to play, and—crucially—if we all safely store our firearms. Changing the culture around guns in America will turn the tide in this war, and it will save our kids.
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