Protect Our Children: Safe Gun Storage

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The surgeon general of NC has declared a youth mental health crisis due to the increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide in NC youths. Back in October, I listened to Baker Burleson share the heartbreaking story of his teenage son’s battle with depression that had a happy ending. William was an apparently happy and active teen with good friends, but unbeknownst to his parents, he struggled with suicide ideation. One important night, William told his dad, “I tried to get one of your guns today.”

Mr. Burleson kept his guns locked up tight because his father had drilled gun safety into him since he was a child. Today, he is a parent advocate for gun safety because “guns are uniquely fatal.” According to the Centers for Disease Control’s prevention data, guns are used in 5% of suicide attempts but are responsible for more than half of suicide deaths. Also, according to the CDC, more than half of people who die from firearm suicide do not have a mental health diagnosis.

This article is not intended to be a political message for gun reform but a message for gun safety and responsible ownership, a topic that should be agreeable to all sides. The North Carolina Attorney General, Josh Stein, has started an information campaign called “Protecting the Next Generation of North Carolinians.” Part of the campaign includes a series of webinars organized by The NC Department of Justice that target parents, caregivers, and those who work with youth. The series will focus on gun storage, mental health and social media, online crimes against kids, and youth substance abuse.

“Firearms are claiming the lives of more and more children in communities across North Carolina,” says Josh Stein in this October webinar. It is too easy for kids to get their hands on guns. Communities are the first line of defense to protect our children from firearm accidents or intentional misuse. We can take away an easy means for suicide and reduce suicide numbers.

NC Department of Public Safety Deputy Secretary William Lassiter has also started a safe storage campaign called “NC SAFE.” The SAFE acronym stands for Secure All Firearms Effectively. His tips follow: 1) Lock up firearms stored at home. 2) When transporting firearms, use a safe storage device like a cable lock and lock the vehicle. 3) If your child is spending the night at a friend’s house, ask if the family has all firearms locked up. 4) If you suspect someone in your home is struggling with suicide ideation, get the guns out of the house. Deputy Secretary Lassiter also wants you to share this information with your neighbors and friends. For more information about NC SAFE and how to get safe storage supplies, visit NCSAFE.ORG.

Today, kids face many new obstacles that their parents may never have dealt with, and we need to work harder than ever to keep our kids safe. You can do your part by locking up your firearms to prevent accidental death and firearm suicides.

Information gleaned for this article came from speakers on the first Protecting the Next Generation of North Carolinians webinar: Attorney General Josh Stein, NC Department of Public Safety Deputy Secretary William Lassiter, Raleigh Police Department Lieutenant Billy Gartin, NCPTA President Dr. Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence, and Parent advocate Baker Burleson.

The local chapter of the State Youth Council also focuses on youth health and well-being with their community passion project this year. To find out how to participate in their efforts or for resources on this topic or others, please contact Pam Kerley, the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a Positive Youth Development Program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.

This article ran in the Sanford Herald on January 13, 2024