As someone who has dedicated my life to the prevention of gun violence, it is heartening to see so much attention being paid to it. The terrible tragedy in Tucson has once again elevated the issue into the national spotlight and, as evidenced in places like The Huffington Post, it has sparked an intense dialogue, a public outcry even, for solutions.
Much of the focus has been on policy, based, it seems, on a discussion of what might have prevented the tragedy in Tucson. That certainly seems like a reasonable, appropriate and worthwhile conversation to have. However, it is not the only opportunity to apply the heightened public sentiment for meaningful and lasting change. It may not even be the best one.
The reality is that, while unspeakably tragic, the shooting in Tucson is not representative of most gun violence in our nation -- the type of gun violence that claims the lives of eight children and teens every day. Most of these youth gun deaths -- the shockingly common ones -- don't make the national headlines, perhaps because they are so common.
For example, about half of youth gun deaths, or more than 1,500 per year, occur because parents, relatives or friends leave guns accessible to kids. They are the suicides and accidents that are looked at as isolated tragedies, rather than together as the preventable crisis of public safety that they really represent.
Every day in my job, it seems, I hear another story of a teenager using a parent's gun to take his or her own life, another family devastated every bit as much as those impacted by tragedies like the one in Tucson.
What I don't hear is an appropriately passionate conversation about how many of these tragedies could have been prevented, beginning with an honest recognition of the risks and dangers associated with youth access to firearms in the home and the simple steps parents can take to make their families safer.
Without condemning or casting judgment on the choice to own guns for purposes such as hunting and target shooting, let's arm ourselves with the unbiased knowledge and information that will enable us as parents to make the right decisions on behalf of the safety and well-being of our kids -- the same type of knowledge and information that motivates us to child-proof our homes when we have babies or insist that our kids wear bike helmets.
After all, what greater common ground can there be than our desire to protect our kids?
Another shockingly available opportunity we have to prevent youth gun deaths is to prevent youth-on-youth violence, from school shootings to gang violence. The fact is, we can prevent hundreds of deaths every year by inspiring and empowering kids to speak up about the threats of violence that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, exist before a tragedy occurs.
To facilitate this, my organization has created an awareness campaign and national tip line for young people to anonymously report weapon threats -- 1-866-SPEAK-UP. We have received more than 35,000 calls in less than 10 years, leading to the prevention of hundreds of acts of violence. As we discuss policy solutions to gun violence, we should also discuss proven, empowering, community based solutions like this.
In the end, it is inspiring to see how our nation can come together in the wake of tragedies like the one in Tucson. It is heartening to see our leaders and our citizens engaged in a dialogue in search of solutions to the crisis of gun violence. At the same time, if we really want to make the most of this moment, it is vitally important that the dialogue reflect the real nature of the problem that exists and, more importantly, the real opportunities that we all have to help end it.
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