For the last year, we have been focused on keeping our children and families safe from the coronavirus. What about the other epidemic that has been with us far longer and continues to harm those we love? The epidemic of gun violence.

This February marks the third anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that ended the lives of 17 students and staff members. Since then, mass shootings and urban gun violence continue to take a deadly toll on victims young and old. In addition, suicide by gun, unintentional shootings and domestic violence are rising.

About seven percent of American children (4.6 million) live in households with at least one loaded, unlocked gun. Watch the video “Best Unbox Ever With Cayden” to see just how close disaster can be when guns and children are in the same building.

Responsible gun owners who keep their firearms locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately, can prevent access to guns and save lives.

The school districts have gotten the message

In November 2019, California’s State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond sent a letter to all California district superintendents. He asked them to inform families in their districts about parents’ responsibility to keep guns locked and ammunition stored separately. Superintendent Thurmond emphasized that “it is a crime for a person to negligently store or leave a loaded firearm in a place where a child is likely to access it.”

We expect Superintendent Thurmond to renew this urgent request soon, especially with the explosion of gun sales in the months of the COVID crisis. As measured by background checks, firearm sales in states like California doubled in 2020. Forty percent of purchases are by first-time owners who may not have the experience and training to store their guns safely.

Every day in the U.S., one child dies from unintentional shootings and two die by suicide. Research also shows that in the case of shootings on school grounds, almost 80 percent of the shooters easily obtained their weapons because guns were unsecured in the homes of their families or friends.

What can you do? Plenty! You’re the PTA.

All parents of students can reach out to their district superintendents and school board members asking that families be notified yearly about the responsibility of safe storage. California state law requires that you safely store all firearms in your home, preferably unloaded and in a locked container, separate from ammunition.  In San Diego County, the leaders in this initiative have been San Diego Unified and Poway Unified School Districts. Our goal is to get all districts in our county and state to share this vital safety information every year.

As a PTA leader or member, you have an important voice. That’s why we urge you and your organization to use this power by asking your district leaders to notify families about keeping our children safe by storing firearms securely.

Find out more about the National PTA recommendations for ending gun violence, including the importance of safe storage of firearms. And read Everytown’s guide, “Unload, Lock, and Separate: Secure Storage Practices to Reduce Gun Violence.”

Lori VanOrden is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.

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