Be SMART: Modeling Responsible Behavior
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots gun violence prevention organization, has a program called Be SMART that teaches adults how to store firearms responsibly and prevent unintentional shootings. My last column discussed the first part of the acronym, which stands for “secure all guns in homes and vehicles.”
The next topic we will talk about is the “M” in the BeSMART acronym, Model responsible behavior. Not only must adults who choose to have guns in their home make sure they are responsibly stored, they must also teach children and teens in their home about gun safety. All too often, curious children are able to find improperly secured guns. We all have family stories about kids finding presents or other things that have been carefully hidden by their parents. Unfortunately, guns can also be found in the same ways, often with devastating consequences.
It is always an adult’s responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns. Studies have shown that the majority of children are aware of where their parents store their guns and that more than one third reported handling their parents’ guns, many doing so without the knowledge of their parents. Nearly a quarter of parents did not know that their children had handled the gun in their house.
Talk to your kids about gun safety, but remember that’s a precaution, not a guarantee, and must go hand in hand with responsible storage. One study found that young children who go through a week-long gun safety training are just as likely as children with no training to approach or play with a handgun when they find one. Children may not fully understand how guns work or how to tell whether or not a gun is loaded. Just this year in Tulsa there was an incident where a teenager pointed a gun at another teenager, not knowing that there was a round in the chamber. He was fatally shot as he attempted to push the gun away.
Tips For Talking to Young Children:
- Make it part of the normal safety conversation you have with your children.
- Keep the language simple; for example: “If you see a gun, don’t touch it. Tell an adult right away.”
- Tell children not to touch a gun, even if it looks like a toy.
- Assure children they will not get in trouble if they tell an adult they’ve seen a gun.
- Repeat it on a regular basis.
Tips for Talking to Adolescents:
- Include it in your general safety conversations about topics like drugs, alcohol and drunk driving.
- Tell them to immediately leave any situation where an unsecured gun is present.
- Tell them not to listen to a friend who says a gun is unloaded or otherwise safe.
- Give children strategies to get out of a situation where a gun is present — or brainstorm them together. For example, you could agree that a child could say: “Mom just texted me that I have to get home right now.”
- Assure them that it’s okay to ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes, but offer to do it for them if they don’t feel comfortable.
Modeling responsible behavior means that SMART adults make sure that children don’t have the opportunity to access guns. That said, you can’t control the environment that a child is in all the time, so you should teach them not to touch a gun if they come across one, real or pretend, and give them the tools to get out of a dangerous situation, and to alert an adult. As an adult, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to prevent them from getting in a dangerous situation to begin with.
About Moms Demand Action: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (www.momsdemandaction.org) is a grassroots, non-partisan movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence and keep our families safe. Moms Demand Action has a chapter in every state and it is part of the nation’s largest gun violence prevention organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, with more than 5 million supporters. Moms Demand Action works with survivors, mayors, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, educators, gun owners, doctors and communities across the country who know there is more we can do to prevent gun violence. We do this work because every day 100 Americans die from gun violence and hundreds more are wounded.
About Christine: Christine Jackson is the Chapter Leader for the Oklahoma Chapter of Moms Demand Action. She and her husband Neal are parents to two young sons. She was inspired to do the work of helping to end gun violence when she was seven months pregnant with her first son and the tragedy at Sandy Hook happened. She knew then that Mothers like her needed to get involved. She hopes that we will someday get to a place in this country where this work is no longer needed, but will keep going as long as it is.