After last month’s mass shooting in Raleigh, which killed five people, “unfortunately, the issue of gun violence is at the forefront of the minds of many of us,” Kella Hatcher, executive director of the state’s Child Fatality Task Force, said at a meeting of the group earlier this month.
The task force at the meeting adopted a recommendation on firearms safety initiatives aimed at reducing underage access to firearms. Hatcher and William Lassiter, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, presented data showing why the initiatives are needed:
In 2021, 116 children under the age of 17 died from gun injuries. From 2012 to 2021, more than 600 children died from gun injuries. More than half of the children who died by suicide in 2020 and 2021 used firearms. Juvenile crime related to firearm possession has increased from 4% of all juvenile crime reports in 2017 to 13% in 2021.
“While it will take multiple prevention strategies to really make a difference here, we know there is one thing that will make a difference, and one that many can agree with, and which this task force has repeatedly agreed to encourage gun owners to keep their guns safe,” said Hatcher.
She cited a 2019 study by JAMA Pediatrics, which found that “6% to 32% of youth firearm deaths (from suicide and accidental firearm injuries) could be prevented, depending on the likelihood of a.” Intervention motivates adults who do not currently lock up all firearms in the home instead lock up all guns in their home.”
More than 40% of North Carolina adults have a firearm in or near the home, and more than half of loaded guns are also unlocked, Hatcher said. She added that most school shootings are committed with firearms found in the home.
“That’s a lot of firearms that are accessible to curious young children, adolescents who are at risk of harming themselves or others,” she said.
The recommendation, which the group has supported since 2018, would fund state-level agencies that provide technical assistance to communities to launch local safe storage initiatives. The group is asking the Legislature in this session for $250,000 over two years for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Injury and Violence Prevention.
The Child Fatality Task Force, established by state law in 1991, investigates child deaths and makes recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly on “how to prevent child deaths, prevent abuse and neglect, and support the safety and welfare of children can. ‘ according to its website.
Children most often pick up guns at home and in vehicles, Lassiter said. Gun purchases have increased during the pandemic, and firearm theft is now the top reason youths break into cars, he said.
“Adults need to lock up these firearms, especially if they’re just leaving them in the front seat,” Lassiter said.
His department has also launched a “request for suggestions” to launch a public awareness campaign to educate adults and children about gun safety and safekeeping. This work is being supported with temporary funding and would continue with the funding requested.
“This is not an anti-gun campaign,” Lassiter said, later adding, “We’re going to talk about how, if you have a gun in your home, then responsibly keep that gun in your home.”
The recommendation made its way into House Bill 427 during the 2021 legislative session, which passed the House of Representatives but failed to enter the Senate. The task force unanimously approved the recommendation.
This article first appeared on EducationNC and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.