Caroline Efird: Hide your leftover candy, lock up your firearms

Published 12:49 pm Saturday, November 26, 2016

By Caroline Efird

Special to the Salisbury Post

Last week I walked into a relative’s home office to grab a pen off his desk. As I turned to leave, I noticed something placed above the door that made my heart rate jump higher than the doorframe itself: a shotgun.

I was alarmed because his house has a revolving back door, so you never know who will pop in for 15 minutes to grab a Cheerwine, chat with his wife, or talk about the town’s high school football team who made it to the playoffs. The day I visited, at least eight of my young cousins came in and out.

I do not know if that gun was loaded, but I am certain that I was not the only one who noticed it.

The Second Amendment is not going anywhere, and I am not advocating that it should. I do, however, think that firearm owners must keep guns locked up, unloaded, and out of the hands of children.

In October, the Washington Post reported that toddlers shot or killed at least one to two people per week so far this year. Many of those victims were other children. I would like to point out that these shootings were not “accidents.” They were easily preventable tragedies. Children of any age should never be able to find and play with a loaded firearm.

Simply hiding guns does not cut it. The fact is parents often believe that their children do not know where guns are hidden, but just like leftover Halloween candy, kids are pros at finding things they are not supposed to find.

According to a study by Drs. Baxley and Miller, 22 percent of children with gun-owning parents said that they have handled the firearms themselves, even though 100 percent of the parents believed that their children had never touched the firearms. Parents often learn this in the worst way possible.

Recently in Gaston County, a 2-year-old accidentally shot himself in the stomach. The following Friday, a 7-year-old in Minnesota took a gun to school and it discharged inside of a first-grade classroom. A few days ago in Louisiana, a 2-year-old shot his 1-year-old sister. A 10-year-old unintentionally killed his 3-year-old sibling last week in Michigan. Less than three weeks ago in Ohio, a bullied 11-year-old cancer survivor found her parents’ hidden handgun and committed suicide while a family member was in the next room.

These stories are devastating. Gun advocates and gun adversaries alike can agree that children should never have the opportunity to accidentally shoot themselves or another child. Adults have the power to stop these catastrophes.

There are practical steps that we can take as parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and grandparents to protect the children that we love. Here are some simple actions that will help keep our children safe:

1. If you own a gun, lock it up!

2. Store ammunition in a separate, locked location away from the actual firearms themselves

3. Talk to children about the potential dangers of guns

4. Teach children to find an adult or call 911 if they ever discover a gun

5. Before your child goes over a to a friend’s house, ask the friend’s parents/guardians if they have unlocked guns in their home

In retrospect, I should have asked my relative if that gun was loaded, and I plan to do so the next time I am in his home. He is one of the most cautious and responsible hunters that I know (which is why I was so surprised to see the unlocked gun hanging on his wall). If a conscientious and reasonable man like him had a gun out on display, it made me fearful for all of the children living in homes with irresponsible gun owners.

Gun storage is not a liberal or conservative issue. Gun storage is common sense. I am grateful that none of my young cousins were among the 50 victims of toddler shootings this year, and I hope none of your loved ones were either.

I can accept the expression often touted by gun advocates: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” However, my hope is that gun owners in North Carolina will keep firearms locked up and unloaded so that we do not find ourselves one day saying: “Guns don’t kill children, children kill children.”

Together we can eradicate the possibility of hidden guns, accidental shootings, and children becoming unintentional murderers.

Caroline Efird is a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and once taught in Kannapolis City Schools.