This week, a 15-year-old girl from Austin Texas, Meagan Allen, shot and killed herself in her school's bathroom after telling her friends she was going to commit suicide. Unfortunately, her friends didn't take her warnings seriously.
This tragedy didn't make national news, as some of the more unusual, sensational acts of gun violence do, perhaps because tragedies like this happen all too often.
The fact is, eight children and teens (ages 19 and under) die every day in our country from guns. Up to half of these deaths, over 1,000 every year, are suicides, accidents or homicides with guns kept in homes where kids and teens too easily have access. These tragedies don't often make national headlines, because they are viewed as isolated instances, because they tend to occur in smaller towns or rural areas where firearm ownership is most prevalent, or because youth suicide itself is so shockingly common.
However, when you look at these youth gun deaths in the aggregate, the ones that occur because of access to guns in the home, what emerges is a picture of a devastating crisis in public health and safety. Together, youth deaths from guns in the home claim more lives than gang violence and certainly more than the rampages of madmen to which we understandably pay so much attention.
More importantly, most of these deaths are preventable, with solutions that lie outside the political debate over gun control and within each of our hands as responsible parents and students.
Meagan Allen might still be alive if her friends had been made aware of how seriously threats like this should be taken and had access to the right resources. We all need to communicate to the young people in our lives the importance of speaking up about any threats of violence, whether someone is threatening to hurt themselves or others. In the overwhelming majority of instances, kids know about violent acts before they occur. They should know to tell a trusted adult. If they are concerned about anonymity they can use our organization's national hotline 1-866-SPEAK-UP.
Additionally, when parents are considering owning guns in homes with kids, they must make sure they have complete and accurate knowledge of the risks and dangers associated with that choice. If a parent does bring a gun into a home with kids, it is their responsibility to make sure they do everything possible to own that gun safely.
There are many people out there who solely advocate teaching kids about gun safety -- this is simply not enough. I have met too many parents who have tragically lost children who thought that their kids "knew better." Too often it turns out all the gun safety training in the world can't overcome a young boy's curiosity, an irresponsible neighbor, or a teen's impulse to take his or her life.
Tragically, it's too late to save the life of Meagan Allen. But perhaps we can learn from this tragedy and the many others like it, and take the responsibility into our own hands to prevent the next one from happening.
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