5 Steps We Can Take to Keep Children Safe from Gun Violence

In the heart of Baltimore, where the city’s vibrant energy intersects with tragic realities, lies a crucial conversation needed to be had: gun violence prevention.

It’s an urgent priority that we ensure the safety of our children, and have the conversations necessary to do so. While having a conversation about gun safety may feel unfamiliar, its significance cannot be understated. Let’s delve into the vital importance of educating our fellow adults about gun safety and its profound impact on the fabric of our city, our country and our children.

Every year, nearly 360 children living in America under the age of 18 gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, such as a sibling, parent, or friend. In fact, newly released data from Everytown shows that 2023 was the worst year on record for unintentional shootings, with 411 incidents. That’s more than one child every day, and most of these shootings happened at home. This speaks to me personally because my nephew, Andrew V. Zachary, was shot and killed at the age of 23 in 2017, in this very city of Baltimore.

I’m heartbroken by the fact that firearms are the number one killer of children, teens, and young adults in Maryland. Far too many young people who live here are impacted by homicides, suicides, domestic violence incidents, or unintentional shootings that never even make headlines.

This is even more stark for the Black children and teens in the US who are five times more likely to die by a firearm, and Latinx children and teens, who are nearly three times more likely to die by gun homicide than their white peers.

I feel empowered by the role that we can all play – as parents, aunts and uncles, caregivers, community members and gun owners – to individually reduce the risk of gun violence in our communities by securely storing our firearms and making sure that others are securely storing theirs.

When guns aren’t properly stored, tragedy can strike – whether it’s a child finding a firearm and injuring or killing themselves, or someone stealing it and using it to commit crime. Secure gun storage can prevent both, and that’s why I volunteer for the Be SMART program.

Be SMART is a national public education campaign that was created to promote responsible gun ownership to reduce the death, injury, and trauma that can occur when a child gains access to a gun. The program emphasizes that unintentional shootings by children — and other forms of gun violence like youth suicide and school shootings — can be prevented by storing guns unloaded, locked and, where possible, separate from ammunition.

Parents and caregivers, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, can protect the kids in their lives and their communities by taking these simple steps:

  1. Secure all guns in homes and vehicles.
  2. Model responsible behavior around guns.
  3. Ask about the presence of unsecured firearms in other homes your child visits.
  4. Recognize the role of guns in suicide.
  5. Tell your peers to Be SMART.

BeSMARTforKids.org is the one-stop site for all information on the Be SMART campaign and how to get involved. I encourage everyone to read up on how to have conversations about secure storage — these conversations don’t have to feel awkward or uncomfortable — or to check out other resources for additional information on preventing children’s access to guns.

It wasn’t until I started volunteering with the Be SMART program that I realized, I, as a gun owner myself, had never been asked by others whether I stored my gun securely. While I certainly did store my firearm securely — and still do — the fact that it was absent from the conversation when I was hosting my friends’ and siblings’ children in my house was a wake-up call about the need to normalize conversations about gun safety with caregivers and neighbors.

 It’s critically important that adults do all they can to ensure that children don’t gain easy access to unsecured firearms, because the consequences can be deadly. Asking other adults whether they keep guns in their home or vehicle and how they are stored is a great place to start, and it should be as routine as asking about a child’s dietary restrictions.

This new partnership between Be SMART and Port Discovery Children’s Museum is so critical to preventing gun violence here in Baltimore and across the country. Port Discovery is a place where children can have fun, learn, and develop new skills. By introducing parents and caregivers to the Be SMART program, Port Discovery will be ensuring that children aren’t the only ones gaining new skills while enjoying the children’s museum.

The Be SMART program is for everyone. Even if it’s not your child, it’s someone’s child. We all share a desire to keep the youngest among us safe and thriving, and making sure that firearms are stored securely is one way that we can exercise agency in the fight against gun violence.

To learn more about how to Be SMART, visit: https://besmartforkids.org/