Gun-safety event arms visitors with knowledge

Jun. 30, 2014 @ 05:21 PM

Five-year-old Anthony Caviness didn’t know much about gun safety before Monday, but an event outside Durham’s Human Services Building on Main Street changed that.

“I would just run out of the house!” Anthony said in explaining how he’d react if he saw a gun lying around. “Learning about gun safety is good!”

Anthony’s grandmother, Mary McGhee, was happy to hear that. She brought Anthony to the firearms-safety event to help him understand the danger of unsecured guns, so he’ll live a long and healthy life.

“We want him to be aware that if he sees a gun, he should get a parent or someone, and not even touch it,” she said. “It’s important to know better.”

Durham health officials are working to curb accidental shootings, which wounded a 5-month-old girl in February and killed a 9-year-old boy in April.

They helped sponsor Monday’s event with the Durham County Gun Safety Team, which gave out free gunlocks and distributed literature about properly storing firearms.

Joanie Ross, a health education specialist with the Durham County Department of Public Health, is the team’s coordinator.

“If you own a firearm, it needs to be locked up – especially if there are children in the home,” she said.

A program called ASK (Asking Saves Kids) encourages parents to ask other parents if they have firearms in their home if their child plans to visit.

“It it’s loaded in the top of a closet, then it’s going to be a dangerous place for your child to play, because they find everything,” Ross said.

Parents would be amazed by how much their children know about their guns, she said.

“We talk to many young people, and they tell us: ‘We know exactly where the gun is,’ ” she said. “But the odd thing is that parents don’t know that their children know. That’s scary.”

Even children under age 5 can find their parents’ guns, Ross said.

“They can climb to the top of a refrigerator and pull a firearm down. They can use a chair to get up in a closet, or look under the bed. They can get to whatever they want to get to.”

Gayle Harris, director of the Durham County Department of Public Health, said 1.7 million children in the United States live in homes where guns are loaded or not correctly stored.

“Every day, there are nine children (in the U.S.) who are injured or killed as the result of unsafely stored guns,” Harris said. “We want parents to prevent lost lives.”

One visitor to Monday’s event was Addi Hernandez, the mother of a 7-year-old boy.

“We don’t have guns in the house, but a lot of people do,” she said. “Being able to speak with other parents about gun safety is important.”

After learning about firearm safety, Hernandez plans to talk to her son.

 “He’s 7, and a gun to him is cool,” she said. “I want him to know that if he comes across a gun somewhere, that he knows it’s dangerous and what to do. Kids see guns on TV shows, and somebody gets shot; then they stand up and walk away, which is not realistic.”

For Marcia Owen, executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, gun safety is a moral issue.

“The presence of a gun is a risk,” Owen said. “There’s nothing more important than the safety of our children. To be safe is to be loved, and visa versa.”

If parents own a gun, it’s important to lock it up so neither children nor any other unauthorized person can get it, she said.

“Many guns are stolen each year, and that puts us all at risk,” Owen said. “Unsecured weapons are like second-hand smoke – they affect us all.”

Shooting are often unplanned and the result of lost tempers, she said.

“They’re the response to conflict,” Owen said. “The presence of a loaded weapon can take a common conflict and turn it into a crime of the worst proportions, with consequences that will endure for a lifetime.” 

For more information or to get a free gunlock, call Joanie Ross at 919-560-7765 or email her at jross@dconc.gov