In the last year, 35 children in Washington state under the age of 18 have died as a result of a firearm.
IN today’s society, no one is immune to gun violence and its effects. It’s touching all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds in America.
As we grieve for the recent victims at Umpqua Community College and those killed one year ago in the tragedy at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, this is the reality we are forced to accept. You used to send your kids to school worrying about grades or lice; now you worry about them being gunned down.
I know, in the back of your mind you think it will never actually affect you. I know I didn’t. That was until I received the shattering call a year ago from this Saturday and learned that my cousin’s daughter, Gia Soriano — a vivacious 14-year-old and beloved member of my family — was one of the shooter’s victims at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
Nothing can prepare you for such a senseless act of violence to occur to someone you love. It goes without saying that her death devastated our family, and we were left with the question, “How could this have happened to our sweet, innocent, beautiful Gia who had such a bright future before her?”
When I returned to work at Seattle Children’s, there is one moment that is forever burned in my mind. Bruder Stapleton, our chief academic officer, said to me (as people do), “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” It was in that moment that I knew there was something that we as leaders at Seattle Children’s can, and must, do.
As an organization focused on preventing injury, we’ve championed car seats, life jackets and helmets. Now it’s time to address the primary public-health crisis facing our youths today: gun violence and firearm-related accidents. It’s time for our community to join us in advocating for and practicing safe gun storage as just one of the tangible ways that we can protect our kids from these tragedies.
Since that horrific day a year ago, 35 children in Washington state under the age of 18 have died as a result of a firearm, according to the state Department of Health. While we know storing firearms locked and unloaded, with ammunition locked separately, can greatly reduce the risk of injuries and deaths involving children and teens, one in six homes has guns stored loaded and unlocked.
What’s staggering is that 35 percent of these homes with unlocked and loaded guns have children living in them. As we look at these reoccurring tragedies, more than 60 percent of firearms used in school-associated homicides or suicides in the U.S. came from the perpetrator’s home or from a friend or relative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In terms of suicide, which accounts for three-quarters of firearm-related deaths in Washington, the risk of a youth suicide in King County is nine times higher in homes where firearms are kept unlocked, compared to homes where firearms are kept locked. Impulsivity plays a significant role — in interviews with those who have survived suicide attempts, about one-quarter made the attempt within 10 minutes of deciding to end their life. Evidence suggests we can reduce suicide by restricting access to lethal means.
It’s in this vein that Seattle Children’s formed an initiative, with the help of community partners, aimed to protect our kids from gun tragedies. We’ve held five safe-gun-storage events across Washington state where we’ve given away more than 1,700 lockboxes and/or trigger locks and provided education about safe gun storage. At each event, we’re met with people in lines that start forming hours before we open and wrap around the building. We have one more planned for this fall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at Big 5 Sporting Goods in Kirkland. It’s our belief that people want to do the right thing; they want to keep our kids safe. We just need to give them the tools and education to do it.
As we work to do our part, I ask you to do yours. Whether you own a gun or know someone who does, advocate for safe gun storage. For those holding on to the hope that this kind of tragedy never happens to them, let’s work together to ensure it never does.