‘Six-year-old boy injures himself with uncle’s gun”: This is a recent headline from our community. Could this, or something worse, happen to my grandchild visiting a home here in Oak Park? We all want to keep our children safe from firearm violence, at home, at friends’ homes, at outdoor play and at school. I want to know my grandchildren growing up in Oak Park are safe from gun violence. Whether parents and grandparents are gun owners or don’t own any guns, we all want our children to be safe from gun violence.

Public education around secure firearm storage responsibilities is a place to start.

Parents may assume guns hidden in their home or vehicle are safe from their children. The evidence shows otherwise. Children are curious. One should assume children know where the guns are, and where ammunition is stored. The boy in Forest Park found the gun in his uncle’s belongings, and the adults did not know “how the boy got his hands on the gun.”

In May, a student brought their mother’s loaded gun in their backpack to Disney Magnet School in Chicago. That gun discharged in their classroom and injured a 7-year-old classmate.

Acknowledging the risks and their responsibilities for securing their firearms should prompt parents, grandparents and guardians to secure their firearms.

Why do we worry about gun violence? Children are at increasing risk of being a victim of gun violence:

  • Gun violence has become the leading cause of death for children in 2020. By gun violence, we mean active-shooter gun violence, unintentional shootings and suicides. It is all violence.

Why do Oak Park schools need a secure storage policy for parents to read and sign?

Up to 80% of school shooters under the age of 18 obtain the guns they bring to school from their own homes, or that of a friend or relative. Children as young as two have the tensile strength to pull the trigger of a gun. As we see increases in youth suicides it is clear that by securely storing their firearms, parents and guardians can prevent tragic firearm injuries and deaths.

The risks of youth access to unsecured guns is increasing. Illinois led the nation’s surge of gun sales in 2021. With the recent rise in gun sales, the rate of households with children that also have guns rose from one-third in 2015 to over 40% in 2021. Less than half of gun owners report storing their guns securely, and over half report having an easily accessible loaded gun.

Storing guns securely prevents injury and death, and we should prioritize sharing this message with parents and caregivers. States with strong secure storage laws and those with child access laws providing penalties for the owner whose gun is accessed by a child, have lower rates of gun deaths. These policies can make a difference.

Local volunteers from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have initiated an advocacy effort to ask that our public schools tackle the risks facing students with a Secure Firearm Storage Policy, which would direct the superintendent to notify parents and guardians about the importance of secure storage, and provide resources on storage options.

Finally, a secure firearm storage policy would require a parental signature acknowledging their responsibilities for securing their guns and to ask about the presence of unsecured guns when their children visit other homes.

District 97 and District 200 should adopt a policy to include secure firearm storage information with annual school registration. If we can prevent even one firearm injury or death, it is our responsibility to do so. We need to take action to save lives. Secure gun storage saves lives. Let’s get this done!

Please email the school boards and ask for a Secure Firearm Storage Policy to be on the agenda at their next meeting. District 97 Board will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 16, and can be reached at d97board@op97.org. The District 200 high school board will next meet on Thursday, August 25, and can be reached at BOE@oprfhs.org.

Lois Thiessen Love, an Oak Park resident, is a member of the First United Church Social Justice Committee.

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