A suicidal man with a gun sent my daughter’s school into lockdown just a few months after she started kindergarten. He killed himself in a driveway down the street while she huddled in a closet.
The man turned out to be the father of a first-grader in the school. A year later, my daughter’s basketball coach shot and killed himself.
The suicides of these two fathers, just over a year apart, shook me and the small community of Moraga where I live. I and others took action, launching a successful campaign to pass a local gun storage law that I believe is saving lives.
Congress has failed the nation on gun control. Even in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, it voted down a popular proposal to require background checks on all gun purchases. It’s up to communities like ours to take action.
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Gun suicides are the most common gun deaths in the United States, and safe handgun storage laws have been shown to decrease gun suicides. California doesn’t require all guns to be safely stored, but — unlike some states — it lets local governments enact stronger storage laws. These laws help keep parents, and children who have access to adults’ guns, from killing themselves or others.
Neighbors in Orinda and Lafayette have taken steps toward safer storage. In the Northern California cities of Morgan Hill and Berkeley, high schoolers motivated by the courage of the Parkland students brought safe storage to their city councils. Safe storage ordinances are now in effect in 14 California communities, compared to just two in 2014. More are coming.
Our efforts started with a Facebook group promoting safe gun storage. We told town council members and local candidates we needed an ordinance. We discovered new allies, and new opponents. Gun extremists, many from outside Moraga, tried to derail our efforts at the council meeting where our group officially proposed the law. This only galvanized us further: Public opinion was on our side, and the ordinance passed.
Too many of our nation’s nearly 400 million guns are left unsecured. 4.6 million minors in the US — many of whom have major risk factors for suicide — live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm. Between 2007 and 2016, over 6,000 minors intentionally shot themselves, most using guns owned by someone in their home. In this same time frame, roughly 18,000 American minors were killed or seriously injured in unintentional shootings.
It was heartening to see gun reform become a winning issue in the 2018 midterms, with many newly elected members of Congress vowing to introduce strong federal gun legislation. But anyone who feels passionate about making their community safer should personally get involved in this issue.
If you live in California, I urge you to roll up your sleeves, find allies in your community, and start working on local gun violence prevention.
For more information and resources on the types of laws that would benefit your community, check out the website of my day job, Giffords Law Center.