When your kids were four or five years old, discussions about guns were easier. Good guys, bad guys, yes, no… we could keep the rules simple.
“Guns are dangerous.” Period. And if the situation ever got less clear, our advice was “When in doubt, ask a grown-up.”
The conversation surrounding guns is far less simple now that the kids are in middle school, high school and college. Asking a grown-up invites a wide array of suggestions, many of which teens don’t trust, because gun violence continues to happen daily. Obviously, these grown-ups don’t have the answers, or things wouldn’t have gotten this bad. Many of these young adults feel it’s time to find their own answers.
A large and growing number of teenagers in San Diego are working to prevent gun violence through responsible gun ownership. The members of Team Enough are amazing young citizens and eager future voters. I have the privilege of working with them as they educate themselves, write letters, generate dialogue, convene forums, lobby lawmakers and occasionally protest as positive activists for their own safety.
The difference between us and them
For adults, every modification to the law feels a bit scary. Are we sacrificing any rights we’d rather not sacrifice? Our line of thought goes “The law has always been this way, so why shouldn’t it continue to be?”
But to a fresh pair of educated, 16- or 17-year-old eyes, that thinking is archaic, and it’s failing them miserably. They don’t need us to tell them about guns anymore; they’re living it. Too many teens are just a degree or two away from somebody who has completed suicide by firearm. They know that an attempted suicide with a gun is almost always a completed suicide, no matter how impulsive and fleeting the decision may be. Do you think grown-ups are the only ones who know teens can suffer from temporary insanity? Teens know it too. Why? Because they are teens and they know at least a few of their peers who are in emotional distress right now.
And they certainly don’t need adults to tell them that many of those suicidal teens, in their desire to end everything, take the lives of other teens. School shootings are no longer hard to imagine. Too many teens spend too much of their precious youth thinking about them.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask your teen.
Enter the safe storage laws
More than a dozen municipalities in California — including Los Angeles, Sacramento and Oakland — had safe storage laws by the time San Diego woke up. The San Diego City Attorney’s office championed the Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance requiring that all firearms in a residence be stored in a locked container, or disabled by a trigger lock, unless they are being carried by or are under control of the owner.
This is the modern-day equivalent of seatbelts or motorcycle helmets. Almost nobody used either one in the 1960s, and when the law started requiring them, it seemed like an insane infringement on personal rights. Now they’re normal and they’ve saved countless lives. In fact, safe-storage laws are better than motorcycle helmet laws because they save other people in addition to the owner.
That’s why the young people of Team Enough look at safe storage laws for gun owners as a no-brainer. “Why is this so hard?” they ask. “It’s not fair. Look at what we’ve just had to go through to get our driver’s license: regulations, training, testing, licensing, insurance . . . all of that. And if you mess up, you don’t get to drive. Why should it be so hard to pass a law about safely storing a gun in the home?”
Don’t tell them that it’s apples and oranges, or that it’s complicated.
Instead, ask them how frustrating and horrifying it is that the adults who have the power to make decisions to protect children from gun violence at home can’t get that together. Even when young people ask nicely for the grown-ups to make and enforce a few simple rules that they know will save lives, the grown-ups just won’t.
Tired of waiting
In short, the kids are tired of waiting for us. Every day, I hear from active young citizens about their determination to make this city, this state and eventually this country safer by making sure we all follow a few simple rules if we want to own something that can easily kill a roomful of people in a minute or two.
In June I went to Sacramento with hundreds of teens who actively lobbied their legislators on bills promoting safe, responsible gun ownership. California Lobby Day was about passing common-sense laws that everyone needs to follow to save lives. Team Enough makes sure the city, state and nation are moving in the right legislative direction on gun violence prevention. And, of course, they will vote in 2020.
So don’t tell your teens about the difficulty in passing sensible gun laws; ask them how they feel about guns becoming a part of their life whether they like it or not. Ask them about the most and least helpful lawmakers. Ask them how safe storage can reduce the risk of impulsive suicides, unfortunate accidents, gun theft and maybe even a shooting at their own school.
Most important, ask them to tell you how safe storage will make the public aware that everybody has a role to play in responsible gun ownership.
Kara Chine is the California state lead for Brady United’s Team Enough initiative. She is also the mother of two teenagers. This article is based on her public comments to the San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on June 5, 2019.