Amir Jennings-Green was just 4 years old when he was shot and killed while playing with his cousins on April 2 in Thornton, Illinois. The shooting occurred while the state was under its coronavirus stay-at-home order, and police said no adults were present in the room where the gun went off. In an instant, Amir’s life was cut short in a tragedy that was preventable, one of at least 21 gun deaths that were the result of unintentional shootings by children in March and April of this year.
Within the COVID-19 crisis, another public health emergency is threatening our kids. Gun sales have surged during the pandemic, with an estimated 1.9 million more guns sold this March and April than during the same period last year. This spike in sales comes as kids and teens are home from school in states across the country, and many busy, distracted, overwhelmed parents try to balance work and homeschooling.
All of these factors are increasing the risk that curious children and teens will get their hands on unsecured guns and hurt themselves or others. In March and April, unintentional gun deaths by children rose by a staggering 43%, as Everytown calculated, and unintentional gun injuries by children increased by 7% over the same period for the last three years. Those numbers could be even higher, as journalists struggle to cover the scope of gun violence while under lockdown orders. Unless we address this crisis within a crisis, more families will lose children like Amir.
America’s gun violence crisis has continued, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Gun violence was already the leading cause of death for children and teens in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even before the recent surge in gun sales, an estimated 4.6 million American children lived in homes with at least one loaded and unlocked gun.
Every year, nearly 350 children under the age of 18 gain access to a gun and unintentionally kill or injure themselves or others. Nearly 77% of these shootings happen inside the home. Access to a gun also makes suicide attempts more lethal, and on average, more than 600 children under 18 die by gun suicide every year in America. That rate has increased by a troubling 83% over the past decade, per CDC data.
This pandemic has the potential to make these problems worse.
These shootings aren’t accidents. They’re the result of adults’ failure to protect kids and teens by securely storing firearms, and that failure comes with deadly consequences.
As a mother, my heart aches when I read those statistics, as I’m sure yours does, too. But I want you to join me in feeling something else when you read about unintentional shootings by children — anger. Because these shootings aren’t accidents. They’re the result of adults’ failure to protect kids and teens by securely storing firearms, and that failure comes with deadly consequences.
That’s why it’s on all of us to make sure guns are stored unloaded, locked and separate from ammunition, and to ask how and where guns are stored in every home our kids enter. Secure gun storage has always been one of the pillars of Moms Demand Action’s advocacy through the Be SMART campaign, because for mothers, protecting our children is part of our DNA.
That’s why Everytown, of which Moms Demand Action is a part, released a new PSA this spring to encourage parents to practice secure firearm storage as so many children are bored, possibly with elevated anxiety, and home from school.
When it comes to gun safety, too many adults still assume that curious kids won’t get their hands on unsecured firearms. There is no reason to feel embarrassed asking other parents if they have guns in their home and if they’re securely stored. It should be as natural as asking about any other safety concerns, like food allergies. Too many of us believe — incorrectly — that our children would know better than to play with a gun if they found one.
We should always assume kids and teens can and will play with unsecured guns, which is why it’s on all of us as adults to protect them. Ask your friends, relatives, and neighbors how they’re storing their guns. And when our kids and teens can return to having playdates and visiting each other’s homes, ask other parents how they store their guns — asking doesn’t make you the nosy mom. It doesn’t mean you’re playing politics. It means you’re doing what you pledged to do that first moment you held your child in your arms — protect them in every way you can.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the author of Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World, now available in paperback. She is a mother of five.