We are coming up on the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which a young man opened fire on a classroom of first-graders, killing 20 of them and 6 adults — after having killed his mother at home. While nothing can eclipse this tragedy, since then there have been many more tragedies, such as the shooting in Las Vegas, the church shooting in Texas and the recent shooting in Northern California where, thanks to the quick actions of the staff of a local elementary school, the shooter’s attempts to enter the school were foiled. He shot through the windows instead, injuring a child.
In 2014, more than 33 thousand people in the United States died from firearms. For comparison, that’s the same as the amount who died from motor vehicle accidents. Just as we are tirelessly working to keep people from being killed in or by cars, we need to work tirelessly so that fewer people die from guns.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, it looked like we were might have legislation to help prevent gun violence. But quickly we got mired in politics — and a lot of very strong feelings. Clearly, for many people gun ownership is a precious right — and clearly, death from firearms is a complicated problem without easy fixes.
That’s why we need to look for simple ways that we can all work together so that fewer people die. Here are three suggestions.
Keep guns and ammunition safely stored.
This one really is simple. Guns should be locked up, and the ammunition should also be locked up—somewhere else. What’s key here is that “safely stored” should indeed mean “safely stored.” If everyone in the house knows how to unlock the guns and ammunition, you might as well have them in the hall closet.
This is particularly important if there are young children in the house. Every year, many children shoot and hurt other children, often siblings or themselves. It’s also important if there is someone with mental health problems who lives in or visits the house. It may be awkward to tell them they can’t have the combination or key, but awkward is way better than tragic.
Support gun buy-back programs and other local initiatives to stop gun violence.
The first National Gun Buyback program will take place on Dec. 16, two days after the anniversary of Sandy Hook. It’s a simple concept: people can turn in guns they no longer need or want to participating police stations, and get gift cards (and trigger locks for any remaining guns at home) in return. These programs may not stop mass shootings, but by voluntarily removing some guns from the street, we may keep them out of the hands of people who would use them in bad ways. Even if you don’t have a gun to return, you can help by donating toward purchases of gift cards and trigger locks.
It’s through local programs, designed and implemented by people on the ground that know and understand the needs and challenges of their communities, that we may find some of our best solutions. Whether it’s buyback programs, community policing, educational programs, jobs for youth, programs that help victims of domestic violence, programs in faith communities or another local program, the point is that we all need to work together to keep each other safe. Which leads to my final suggestion…
If you see something, say something.
This is the standard request from the police, but I’d encourage us all to think about it more broadly. After so many of the recent shootings, people who knew the shooter talked about how they had been concerned or frightened by them. There are an awful lot of angry, isolated, volatile, mentally ill people out there — and there is a lot of domestic violence. The vast majority of these people never shoot anyone, but if we reach out, get to know our neighbors, let people (authorities, family, anyone who could help) know when someone worries us, we could help prevent not just shootings but a lot of other sadness and tragedy.
Letting someone know isn’t always enough, obviously. We need to be able to follow up every time someone is worried, and that’s not always possible — and we need mental health and community support resources to be widely and quickly available. But letting someone know is a start — as is reaching out, instead of thinking that it’s not our business, that it’s someone else’s problem.
That’s the thing: whatever we end up doing about guns, we need to do a better job of taking care of each other.
About the blogger: Dr. Claire McCarthy is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, a senior editor for Harvard Health Publications and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.