Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus was 13 years old when her friend, Jordyn Howe, accidentally shot her in the neck with a gun while they were riding to school together. Her death recently gained national attention because Guzman-DeJesus's mother publicly forgave Howe and fought for him to avoid prison time. Once Howe finishes a stint at a juvenile rehabilitation center, the two plan to speak together at schools about the dangers of guns.
While the forgiveness at the heart of this story is profound and moving, it begs the question — how many times must mothers struggle to forgive, when we collectively have the power to prevent these tragedies in the first place?
According to Jennie Lintz of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, guns are the second leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. Over 18,000 kids are injured or killed by guns each year, and 3,000 of these casualties are caused by accidental shootings, like the one that killed Guzman-DeJesus.
These facts are startling, but there is hope for us and for our kids. Unlike seemingly unpredictable and unpreventable mass shootings, accidental gun violence — which is far more common — is highly preventable. "Eighty percent of accidental child shootings occur in a home," explained Lintz. "In fact, over one-third of homes with children have guns, and many are kept unlocked and loaded." For the homes that have guns, Lintz underlined the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to unload and lock firearms to prevent a senseless tragedy.
She added, however, that parents who don't own guns need to remain vigilant, too. "Even if you choose not to own a gun, remember that one out of every three homes with children have guns, so make sure to ask about guns and gun storage when you leave your child in someone else's care," Lintz said. If you're uncomfortable with how guns are stored at a playmate's house, don't let your child go there to play.
Lintz's recommendation to ask about gun storage seems so obvious, but it had never even crossed my mind before talking with her. I didn't grow up around guns. I don't think about them, and I don't want them in my home. Before I leave my daughter with friends, I always ask about pool safety, first aid and adult supervision. But because my knowledge of guns is so limited, it wasn't even on my radar as a safety concern in a playmate's house.
That's exactly why Lintz and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence launched National ASK Day, slated for June 21. On this day, parents can pledge to ASK whether or not there is an unlocked gun in a playmate's house before arranging a play date. This one simple question is enough to prevent most accidental child shootings in the U.S.
While I unreservedly applaud the brave forgiveness of Guzman-DeJesus's mother, I plan to ask because I never want to be in her shoes.
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