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Asking Saves Kids

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A big part of the solution to gun violence lies outside Washington, D.C.

ABC's 20/20 special on Friday once again demonstrated the most important thing we should know about kids and guns in the home: children know where guns are, when they find those guns they are very likely to handle them, and when they do the consequences are often tragic.

• We saw a young child show the camera where his mom's gun is "hidden."
• Another boy, minutes after being instructed never to touch a gun picks it up and looks down the barrel to see if it's loaded.
• A father who had been teaching his son to shoot responsibly, wept as he recalled how the boy accidentally shot and killed himself with an unsecure gun.

Unsafe access to guns in the home is a big part of the problem of gun violence in our nation. In fact it may be the biggest. Every day in our nation eight children and teens are shot unintentionally. Another six teens and young adults take their own lives, many using a parent's gun.

The problem may not seem as intense as urban violence, because the deaths are spread out in less densely populated areas where gun ownership rates are highest. But when you look at it on a per capita basis, the statistics become startling. Young people in the most rural counties of the U.S. are as likely to die of a gunshot wound as those living in the most urban.

Most of the guns behind these tragedies are not purchased or owned with the idea they are going to harm someone. They are a part of the 300 million guns already in homes across the country, mostly in the hands of decent, law abiding people who own guns to hunt, target shoot, collect or protect their homes -- and who certainly do not bring a gun into their home with the idea that it will take the life of a child.

Most simply, too many tragedies occur because guns are purchased or owned without giving proper weight to the risks of bringing guns into the home and unsafe access to those guns.

This isn't a gun issue. It's a responsibility issue. Thousands of tragedies, in homes across our country could be prevented every year if parents and others had more responsible attitudes and behaviors, based on the real risks around guns in the home.

And to address this responsibility issue, we need major public awareness and education campaigns. We need to start a new national conversation that makes responsible choices about guns part of what it means to be a responsible parent, spouse or friend.

We need to change social norms just like we've seen on those other issues like drunk driving and tobacco where campaigns like, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," and "Second Hand Smoke," have changed dangerous and irresponsible behavior that was considered not only acceptable, but glamorous a generation ago. Just watch one episode of Mad Men and think about how far we've come on those issues. We believe we have the exciting potential to create the same kind of sea change around guns through the same kind of public health and safety campaigns.

In 2000, we started the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign with the American Academy of Pediatrics to encourage parents to start this conversation. It has proven extremely successful, with over 20 million parents asking about guns in homes, beginning to impact attitudes, behaviors and social norms in communities across the country. In fact, Friday night's 20/20 broadcast culminated with Diane Sawyer going door to door with residents of a suburban community showing the power and impact of asking if there are guns in the home.

Ultimately gun violence is a public health issue, just like tobacco and drunk driving and to solve it we need to take a public health approach. As a key part of that, we need to expand campaigns like the ASK Campaign to achieve the same scale and impact of successful public health and safety campaigns on those other issues -- and we need to do it immediately. Every day we wait more children are dying.

As our successful work in this area has already shown, if we can ground our efforts in the universally common goal of child safety, through public health and safety campaigns like the ASK Campaign, we truly can work together across the country and across the political spectrum to address a very big part of the gun violence problem in America.