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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

WWJD to Protect Children From Gun Violence

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As a priest and pastor one of the core values of my ministry has been Jesus' challenge (Matthew 25:40) to seek and serve "the least of these" in a culture that prioritizes the "best and brightest." And as a mother one of the key challenges of my parenthood has been keeping my boys as safe as I possibly could in a world where violence is all too normative.

Both of those vocations intersect for me around the issue of keeping our children safe from gun violence. Every day across America nine children and teens are shot in unintentional shootings. The majority of these instances go unnoticed, they do not make the headlines or captivate our attention -- and yet they add up to the sad reality that nearly 3,000 kids and teens are killed by gun violence every year.

Many of these youth deaths and injuries occur because parents, relatives or friends leave guns accessible to kids. They are the unintentional shootings and suicides looked upon as isolated tragedies, rather than viewed together as the preventable public health crisis that they actually represent. And too often, any proposed solutions often devolve into a polarizing debate over gun regulation.

We can do better than that for our children.

Every day parents make very rational choices about the safety of children. We buckle their seatbelts, we make them wear bicycle helmets, we limit their TV time and we watch what they snack on. It is time to take the same logical approach to gun safety.

Statistics tell us that one out of three homes with children has guns, many left unlocked or loaded. Yet, nationally, more than half of parents say it has never occurred to them to ask about the presence of guns where their children play. Simply asking the right questions about gun safety is the simple idea behind something called "the Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign."

ASK encourages parents to simply ask if there are guns in the homes where their children play (such as at friends' or family members' homes). Just as it has become common to hear parents asking about nut allergies or how the children will be supervised, parents can take an important step to ensure the safety of their children simply by asking: "Is there an unlocked gun in your home?"

If the answer is no, then we have one less thing to worry about. If the answer is yes, we can make sure all guns are stored unloaded and locked, ideally in a gun safe, with ammunition stored separately.

On Saturday, June 21, 2014, organizations and individuals around the country will observe National ASK Day. ASK Day reminds parents about the importance of ASKing if there are unlocked guns in the homes where their children play. In my congregation, we believe encouraging parents to ask those questions is one of the many ways we live into our responsibility to keep our kids safe as we live into our call to minister unto "the least of these."

We need to ASK about guns in the home where our children play, because our children are counting on us to ask for them. And if a home has a gun, we need to ensure it is stored locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition. If we can do that, we can make our families safer and prevent many of the firearm-related tragedies that occur every day.

Participation in ASK Day is as simple as pledging to ASK and encouraging your friends and family to do the same! To pledge to ASK and learn about more ways to get involved in ASK, visit the ASK website and join clergy and parents around the country standing up and speaking out for a safer America for "the least of these" -- our precious and vulnerable children.

WWJD? Ask!