Parents usually ask all sorts of questions before their children visit somebody else’s home.
“Do you have dogs? My child has allergies. Do you have a swimming pool?’’ said Penny Okamoto, Executive Director of Ceasefire Oregon.
“But we want people to ask one more question: Is there an unlocked gun in the home where your children or grandchildren play?” said Okamoto.
That simple question has the power to save a child’s life, she and members of the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign stressed during a briefing before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Sept. 26.
“While some grandparents or parents might find it uncomfortable to talk about firearms, I guarantee you: It is easier to ask the question than to pick out your child’s tombstone,” Okamoto said.
ASK is a decade-old collaboration between the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It includes more than 400 grassroots organizations that spread the message to communities across the country.
Okamoto cited alarming statistics on access to guns:
- In America, roughly one out of three homes with children has a gun. Many of those are kept unlocked and loaded. In Oregon, the estimate is roughly 40 percent of all households.
- Most children know where their parents keep their guns: 73 percent of children age 9 and younger reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms. And, 36 percent of those children admitted they had handled those weapons. That includes children whose parents said they didn’t think their kids knew where their guns were.
- 89 percent of accidental shooting deaths occur in the home, and most of the deaths occur when children are playing with an unsecured, loaded gun in their parents’ absence.
- One study found more than 75 percent of guns used in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, relative or friend.
“When my daughter was little I didn’t ask,’’ Okamoto said. I told people I don’t have any firearms in my home and that started the conversation without being nosy or for some people who might feel uncomfortable.”
Firearms play a leading role in deaths by suicide. David Westbrook is the chief operating officer of Lines for Life, a nonprofit that works to prevent substance abuse and suicide prevention. He told the Board that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teenagers, and death by firearm accounts for 44 percent of those deaths.
He was joined at the briefing by Paul Kemp, of Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership. Kemp’s brother-in-law Steve Forsyth was killed in the Clackamas Town Center shooting in December 2012. He showed the board an example of a $6 trigger lock and a cable lock that could have stopped the carnage.
“What I learned is that the (Clackamas) shooter took the gun from a friend of his the morning of the shooting and that gun was fully loaded with a 30-round magazine and unlocked, as were other guns in the house.”
“If you’re not using a gunlock,’’ Kemp said, “that is a conscious choice you’re making.”
Speakers said ASK has been successful in inspiring 19 million households to ask if there are guns where their children play.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran voiced strong support for ASK as a public health strategy.
“In my line of work, working at an inner-city hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, we would see a tremendous amount of injury in gun violence, particularly in young people,” Meieran said.
“I don’t want to describe seeing someone who has been injured in that way - giving news to a family member that their child has been killed. So this strikes me on very personal level. It is clearly a public health issue, and we have the authority and the role and responsibility to act on this.”
Sheriff Mike Reese shared Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office efforts to reduce gun violence through background checks and extreme risk protective orders.
As a parent and police officer, when my kids were young, parents asked us me where my guns were kept, he told board members.
“I was always able to say that they were kept at work or they’re locked up at home. And I thought their question was right .... that’s responsible parenting.”
“This issue is not going away,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury, who pledged support for stronger gun regulation during next year’s legislative session.
“This has been a very sobering conversation, but a very important one to have today.”