Another School Shooting?
When I see it on the news, my heart sinks into my stomach.My inner voice screams over and over again:
This shouldn’t be happening to our kids.
My outer voice is united with every parent: HOW DO WE MAKE THIS STOP?!
Washington is no stranger to school shootings. It was only four years ago when a Marysville-Pilchuck High School student killed four of his peers with his father’s handgun. And just this week, an observant grandmother foiled her grandson’s plot to kill classmates at ACES High School in Everett.
Many people have ideas about how to end school shootings, yet our government does nothing.
I write this today as a parent at my wits end, unsure of what the right answer is, but with a strong desire to do something. Without a doubt, policy change is coming. It has to. But how many more young lives will be lost before our elected leaders end the debate and act?
What I can do today is advocate for gun safety. I can review how to talk with kids about guns and practice gun safety in your home. I can encourage you to talk to the parents that you work for about gun safety, to think about how to keep our children safe in an active shooter scenario, and to be prepared to administer first aid if someone is injured. I can share some groups who are working to make a change and I can make a call to action to sign up and get involved with one of these groups.
How to talk to your kids about firearms
Should you talk to your children about firearms? Absolutely. According to the King County Department of Health, 39 children died in Washington in 2015 from injuries involving firearms. It’s a good idea to initiate the conversation before your child encounters a gun either in your home or someone else’s home. My husband and I sit down with our children when they turn three years old and begin the discussion about guns. Seattle Children’s Hospital offers the following tips for talking to your children about firearms:
- Talk with your children about the risk of firearm injury in places they may visit or play.
- Explain that real firearms can kill or seriously injure people, unlike toy guns or firearms shown on TV, in movies, or in video games.
- Teach your child that if they find a firearm they should leave it alone, leave the room and tell and adult right away. While this training seems to work for some children, it doesn’t work for others. The only guarantee of safety is to lock up firearms.
- Teach your child to tell an adult right away if they see a firearm in someone’s backpack at school or if they hear someone is going to bring a firearm to school.
- Talk with your child about firearms and violence. Let them know that strong feelings like fear and anger can be expressed without using weapons.
How to talk to the parents you work for
Speaking with your employer about guns can be difficult or feel awkward for some. Start the conversation with just one question: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house that I should know about?” It’s also a good idea to ask if ammunition is stored separately, and about shotguns and rifles in addition to handguns.
This conversation should be part of the exchange of crucial information between you and the parents you work for – allergy information, pets, and firearms in the home.
If you are uncertain about how to begin this conversation, here are some sample scripts from King County Public Health:
“I don’t mean any disrespect, but knowing how curious children can be, I feel I have to ask this question.”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking if you have a firearm in your home and if it is properly stored.”
“Joe and Jane, this is awkward for me and I mean no disrespect. I am concerned Susie will find one of the firearms in your home while I am caring for her. Do you keep them locked up with the ammunition stored separately?”
According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, 93% of parents would be comfortable with being asked about a gun in their home, regardless of firearm ownership. Nannies and babysitters – don’t hesitate. Discuss firearms in the home with your parent employers.
Gun safety in the home
According to the 2009 Washington State Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System, one third of households in our state with children under 18 years of age had at least one firearm. Of these household with firearms, 15% were unlocked and 7% were loaded. There are several programs in place to reduce accidents involving children and firearms. One of these programs is the LOK-IT-UP campaign which promotes awareness on safely storing firearms. The LOK-IT-UP program offers these tips on safe firearm storage:
- Store firearms unloaded and locked.
- To properly store firearms, use a gun safe, gun lock box, a trigger lock or a chamber lock.
- Store and lock ammunition in a separate place.
- If your locking device has a key, keep it with you or in a safe place that unauthorized users cannot access.
- Remove firearms from your home if you have a depressed or suicidal family member or frequent visitor.
- Ask family and friends to also use these safe storage steps.
They also offer information on where to buy safe storage and locking devices. Throughout 2018 a discount of 10-15% is available through participating retailers on certain storage devices and lock boxes with the mention of “Public Health”. Gun safes and lock boxes are tax exempt in the state of Washington (RCW 82.08.832).
Just over half of all states have Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws, but unfortunately Washington is not one of them. In the states that have CAP laws, this can mean it’s illegal to directly provide a minor with a firearm. Some of these states have tougher laws where the firearm owner is liable for any crimes committed by a minor with a firearm that has not been properly stored. According to the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, “The most effective child access laws are those that attach felony criminal liability when a firearm that is left readily available is used by a child in a crime.”
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility further states the following:
- States with CAP laws in place for at least one year saw a 23% drop in unintentional firearm deaths among children younger than 15.
- Over a 25-year period, over 65% of school shooters obtained the firearm used in the crime at their home or that of a relative.
- One study found that more than 75% of the guns used in youth suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend.
Washington needs to have a CAP law. It’s time. It’s a good place to start.
What should you do in an active shooter scenario?
My hope is that you never will need to use this information. Being informed will increase your chances of survival in the event you are ever in such a situation. Talk to your kids about their school’s lockdown procedures and familiarize yourself with your child’s school’s emergency protocols. I was initially bothered several years ago when my son’s school began locking the doors and required parents to buzz in to gain entrance during school hours. I have arrived at the conclusion that it’s an unfortunate sign of the times and absolutely necessary.
It’s important to note that being mentally prepared for a situation like this can help people to take the appropriate actions. According to a 2016 Washington Post article on how to survive a mass shooting, research shows that few people ever expect to be in such a terrifying situation. As a result, they can be slow to recognize the severity of things and slow to react appropriately. Many people stampede to the main exit. It’s helpful to know where alternate exits are. As a matter of safety, make a point to show your kids where the exits are when out and about.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Active Shooter website is great for tips on what do to in an active shooter situation. There is a kids section with activities and resources for parents on how to help kids cope during an emergency. They want people to remember to RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. Talk to your children about this and make a plan for your family.
RUN: This should be your top priority. Your odds of survival increase dramatically if you can get away from the active shooter. Even if gunfire is coming your way, it’s harder to hit a moving target. If you get shot, KEEP RUNNING if you are able to.
HIDE: If you can’t run, this is your next best bet. Locking or barricading the doors and turning out the lights is recommended. Silence your cell phone and stay as quiet as possible.
FIGHT: This is obviously the last resort. Work in a group if possible and use objects around you as makeshift weapons to disarm or injure the perpetrator. Be prepared to use lethal force.
Here is a video on what to do in an active shooter event:
First aid for bleeding injuries
When people around you are injured and in need of medical attention, know what to do by becoming CPR/First Aid certified. Fortunately, many of the care providers in our community have this training. If yours doesn’t, consider offering to pay for them to be CPR/First Aid certified.
The American Red Cross offers this training and there are many smaller companies who offer this training as well. Sometimes it’s available through your local fire station. This training could affect your friends and family’s survival. The Red Cross recommends the following for controlling bleeding wounds:
- Cover the wound.
- Apply direct pressure.
- Cover the dressing with a bandage.
- Continue applying pressure and call 911. If the bleeding does not stop, continue to apply more dressings on top of the original dressing and keep applying pressure on the wound.
Enough is enough
As a parent it saddens and concerns me that I need to talk with my children about these things. However, I would rather protect my children with knowledge and helpful information than pretend that one of these senseless acts of violence will never happen to one of my children.
We need to do something to put more safeguards into place so we can prevent school shootings and keep our children safe. Changing policy is not easy, but it is possible. If we scream loud enough with a unified voice, we can make our voices heard.
Here are some organizations/movements to make our voices heard and do something.
- Enough National School Walkout
- Seattle Stop School Shootings NOW
- Alliance for Gun Responsibility – Volunteer Now
- Contact your elected officials and make your voice heard!