Firefighters, you can help prevent firearms death and injury to children

I encourage fire service leaders to start local Be SMART Public Safety Task Forces to educate families about safe gun storage


Note: This piece is not about firearms regulation. It's about ensuring that children do not have access to guns in their homes without direct adult supervision – and how firefighters can help in that effort.

Firearms-related death and injury in America is an epidemic. Gun sales increased 64% in 2020, and with children spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of firearms death and injury grew, making it even more important that firearms are stored securely.

This is the key focus of Be SMART for Kids, an initiative launched to raise awareness about the importance of secure gun storage. Be SMART emphasizes that it’s an adult responsibility to keep kids from accessing guns, and that every adult, including fire service personnel, can play a role in keeping kids and communities safer.

In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 14 in the United States.
In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 14 in the United States. (Photo/Getty Images)

Know the facts

Far too often in our country, children get their hands on guns, and either shoot themselves or others. In fact, in 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 14 in the United States.

Everytown Research & Policy offers the following statistics from 2021:

  • There were at least 322 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 132 deaths and 206 injuries nationally.
  • There were at least 149 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 32 deaths and 94 injuries nationally.

In either scenario and in practically every reported incident, the child used a gun that was in their home and not stored securely.

What is Be SMART?

The Be SMART framework is designed to help parents and adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries. It includes the following steps:

  • Secure all guns in your home and vehicle.
  • Model responsible behavior around guns.
  • Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes (e.g., before allowing your children to have a playdate at a friend’s home).
  • Recognize the role of guns in suicide. Firearm suicide is devastating young Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, who have the fastest-growing firearm suicide rates of any age group over the last decade. Youth suicide has increased every year since 2007 and is the second leading cause of death among young people in the United States.
  • Tell your peers to Be SMART.
Image/Be SMART for Kids

What can firefighters do?

Fire departments are part of the public safety team, and death and injury from gun violence is a public health and safety threat that's taking a deadly toll on cities and towns of all sizes. Further, the toll of gun violence death and injury involving children isn’t limited to the children who are killed or injured and their families. It affects the mental health of everyone involved – firefighters, law enforcement officers, EMTs and paramedics, and the hospital personnel who respond to those incidents and care for the victims.

This is an all “hands-on-deck” time in our communities, and we need to truly get all hands involved. As firefighters are typically ranked as one of the most trusted groups in most communities, we can use that trust to help foster actions to reduce a child’s ability to get their hands on guns.

One way fire service leaders can get involved is to help develop a Be SMART Public Safety Task Force composed of the fire department, law enforcement, EMS hospitals and social services. This would be a natural fit for a fire department and community that have or are developing a community risk reduction (CRR) program. But a community need not have a CRR program before establishing a Be SMART Public Safety Task Force.

The Be SMART website is an impressive resource for ideas, strategies and tools that would be invaluable to a community task force.

Here are five examples of the available resources:

  1. Social media graphics: You can spread the word by sharing prepared graphics on social media.
  2. Guide to Secure Gun Storage Devices: Secure gun storage can be a lifesaver. It can prevent theft and access by children, unauthorized users and anyone who may pose a danger to themself or others. The best device is the one that’s most appropriate for the circumstances in a particular household. Download the guide.
  3. Facts and resources on child firearm suicide: Firearms death and injury has a devastating impact on children in America – and it’s important to know the facts. For example, 40% of child gun deaths are suicides – nearly 700 each year. One study showed that over 80% of children under the age of 18 who died by gun suicide used a gun belonging to a parent or relative. For people of all ages, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times. Get more facts.
  4. Preventable Tragedies: Findings from the #NotAnAccident Index: While unintentional shootings by children are a heartbreaking part of America’s firearms death and injury epidemic, there was previously no centralized database that tracked how many children gain access to unsecured guns and harm themselves or others. Everytown for Gun Sense in America started such a database in 2015 and began carefully tracking media reports to explore this crisis in depth. Read the full report here.
  5. Shareable videos: Learn more by watching videos that describe the Be SMART mission and the individual components of Be SMART.

A big – but vital – task

Yes, this is a big task, but every day more children are dying and becoming injured, and more firefighters and EMTs and paramedics are being traumatized by these horrific but preventable events.

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