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Ask about unlocked guns to help keep kids safe

Wednesday, July 26, 2023 9:46 AM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

In 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death among kids ages 1 to 19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 13 children die from guns every day.

These statistics are sobering, but there are simple steps that can be taken to protect children from harm. In the same way motor vehicles have safety features that reduce the risk of injury in crashes and make driving safer, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a strategy with layers of protection when it comes to firearm injury prevention.

Gun SafetyWhile the AAP has stated that removing firearms from the home offers the greatest protection, the organization also encourages adult gun owners to follow firearm safety measures, such as locking unloaded guns and storing them separately from ammunition, to help reduce the risk for children in their homes.

With an estimated 265 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, and more than one-third of homes containing at least one gun, the AAP also recommends parents ask whether there are guns in the homes their children visit and, if so, how they’re stored.

It’s not an easy conversation to have, said Stephanie Gerberding, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker with NorthShore University HealthSystem. But asking about guns before sending your children to someone else’s home is essential.

“It needs to be that important, unfortunately,” Gerberding said. “That’s why people avoid it, because it’s so uncomfortable, but the consequences are so serious. We can’t let the fear of insulting someone be greater than our concerns about safety.”

One tactic Gerberding suggests parents use when asking other parents about guns in the home is prefacing the question with, “I always ask this before playdates.” It removes the personal element and lets the other person know you’re not asking because of something they did, she said.

Learn how to ask about safe gun storage

According to Be SMART, a gun safety campaign, households that locked both firearms and ammunition were associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries, and an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children, compared to those that locked neither.

To help promote gun safety in our communities, NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office have partnered to distribute free gun locks at Evanston Hospital and Swedish Hospital pediatrics units, as well as Evanston Township High School Health Center. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has recorded an informational video demonstrating how to properly use a gun safety lock.

 “I have seen the devastating consequences of gun violence on children and their families,” said Ann Marie Thomas, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist with NorthShore. “As a pediatrician, part of our job is educating families on keeping their kids safe, whether that be with seat belts, smoke detectors or securing guns in the home. Since starting our project, we’ve been able to talk about gun safety with over a thousand families. This new program gives us an opportunity to not only empower families with knowledge of how to discuss gun safety but also provide the gun locks they need to keep their children safe.”

The partnership between NorthShore and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is part of a larger effort by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health to help address gun violence. The health system recently joined a nationwide public awareness and education campaign to help normalize conversations about safe gun storage. For more information, visit