For the media

Sharp joins gun safety program to end gun violence

By The Health News Team | June 2, 2023
Small child opening cabinet door

The reports of gun violence on our streets and in schools, homes and gathering spaces can seem overwhelming. In fact, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, guns are now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. — with 13 kids dying from guns every day.

The Gun Violence Prevention and Education National Healthcare Campaign, featuring the participation of health care systems located across the country — including Sharp HealthCare — aims to curtail the damage done by guns and gun violence. To do this, the coalition will focus on finding common ground in preventing unnecessary deaths by focusing on access to guns.

“Sharp HealthCare is committed to doing everything we can in our community to help prevent trauma,” says Joshua McCabe, MSN, RN, the director of emergency services at Sharp Memorial Hospital. “Gun safety is very important to us, as guns are now the leading cause of death for kids in the United States and they cause injury, trauma and needless death for all ages. Sharp wants to provide education on gun safety to help prevent further death and injury.”

Storing guns safely saves lives

In the U.S., just 30% of gun owners who live with children store their guns safely. This means an estimated 4.6 million kids are living with access to unlocked, loaded guns.

In 2021, the most recent year in which complete statistics are known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following about gun deaths in the U.S.:

  • 48,830 people died from gun-related injuries.

  • 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides, with an average of 63 people dying by gun suicide per day.

  • 90% of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal.

  • In 75% of youth firearm suicides (for which the gun storage method was known), the gun was loaded and unlocked.

  • 43% of gun-related deaths were murder.

  • The remaining gun deaths were accidental, involved law enforcement or had undetermined circumstances.

One way to curb several of these deaths is by promoting safe gun storage. Locking up guns and ammunition reduces the risk of self-inflicted (attempted and completed suicide) and accidental gun-related injury to children by 85%.

Breaking the taboo

According to the campaign’s founders, the goal is to reduce deaths related to unlocked, loaded guns. The first step is to break the taboo of talking about access to unlocked guns.

Sharp and other health care systems encourage people to “just ask” about unlocked gun access. Before dropping a child at someone’s home, before a teen babysits, before young adults move in together, and when caring for an elderly family member outside your own home, it’s vital to ask if there is an unlocked gun in the home.

“In health care, we found that it's important to ask difficult questions to make sure people are at their best state of health — and stay healthy,” McCabe says. “One of those questions revolves around asking about gun access to help someone think about consequences and understand why gun safety is so important. We know that talking about something can help increase awareness and make a difference.”

Jennifer Hites, manager of trauma at the Sharp Memorial Emergency Department, says that as an American College of Surgeons (ACS) verified trauma center, Sharp Memorial Hospital’s trauma service participates in programs, such as the gun violence and prevention campaign, to reduce preventable injuries and injury-related deaths in our community.

“Injury prevention — including injury due to gun violence or accidents — is a key element of the work we do,” Hites says. “We are passionate about keeping our community safe.”

How to ask the question

With a tagline of “It doesn’t kill to ask,” the campaign reminds parents and guardians that they regularly ask about other things that might cause harm to their child, such as a pool or pets. It’s time to also start asking about unlocked guns, even though asking may feel uncomfortable.

The campaign provides three ways you can do this:

  • Say your doctor advised you to ask.

“Our pediatrician mentioned that guns are the leading cause of death for kids and urged us to ask friends if there are unlocked guns in the house. Do you have any unlocked guns?”

  • Say a friend asked you.

The other day, another mom asked if we have any unlocked guns in the house. We don’t, but we thought it’s smart to ask. What about you — do you have unlocked guns?”

  • Say it’s on your list of playdate questions.

“I have a few safety questions I like to ask before dropping kids off at a friend’s house: Do you have pets? What about a pool? What are your screentime rules? Are there any unlocked guns in the house?”

Additionally, the Trauma Center Association of America advises parents to talk to their children about gun safety. Teach children to never touch a gun and to find an adult immediately if they see one. Remind children that guns are not toys and should never be played with. And assure them they won’t get in trouble for telling you or another adult that they’ve seen a gun when visiting someone’s home.

What to do if there’s an unlocked gun

If there is an unlocked gun in the home you or your child is visiting, experts recommend you do the following:

  • Ask whether the adult would be willing to lock and safely secure the gun while your child is there.

  • If the answer is yes, ask to watch them securely store the gun.

  • If the answer is no, ask to accompany your child on the visit so that they’re not left unsupervised. Or as a safer option, suggest another place for them to play, such as a park.

Guns should always be stored locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition (bullets). Measures for safe storage include trigger locks, cable locks, lock boxes, safes or a combination of these methods.

Additionally, local police departments often offer gun safety community programs, resources and offsite gun storage options. They can also help you legally and safely dispose of any unwanted firearms.

“It important to talk to parents — to anyone, really — about gun safety,” McCabe says. “I think asking someone if there is a gun in the house and who has access to it, and then making sure the gun is locked, is not challenging their right to own a gun or their parenting skills. Rather, it simply shows that you're concerned about ensuring your family and children are safe.”

Learn more about gun safety, talking about gun safety and what you can do to help prevent gun deaths.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.