Those of us in the business of preventing gun violence know gun safety is a hot-button issue. That is why any conversation about this issue must be framed in the context of helping people make better choices to protect themselves and their children, regardless of whether or not they own guns.
But, it is increasingly difficult to hear the voice of reason above the din. The minute the conversation becomes about stricter gun control laws, people go on the defensive. They think messages about safety and common sense are really a debate about restricting their rights.
Recently a group called Evolve put out a PSA called "Playthings" that immediately went viral. Critics claimed that its humor missed the mark and that it was not likely to have an impact. We could not disagree more. In fact, we believe it already has had an impact, just by virtue of the fact that it is engaging the public and starting a new dialogue about gun safety, devoid of politics.
As we have seen with other issues like drunk driving and tobacco, humor can be an important, if not essential tool to call attention to the most serious of issues, and there are few issues in our nation as serious as unsafe access to guns in the home.
Nearly 90 people a day in the United States die from a bullet. Only a third are homicides, the other two thirds? Suicides and unintentional shootings. Nine children and teens are shot unintentionally every day, and hundreds take their own lives every year, many with guns that were brought into homes by parents or relatives. In fact, the CDC recently released data from 2011 that found more children and teens died from guns than from drowning, suffocation or poisoning.
Ironically, most of these tragedies -- which have risen to the level of public health crisis -- are preventable.
There are 300 million guns in this country, and there is a gun in one out of every three homes with children. More than 40 percent of these guns are kept unlocked and many are kept loaded. Approximately 1.7 million children and teens in the U.S. live in homes with unsecured guns; every year thousands are killed or injured as a result of unsafe access to guns.
And who are the owners of these guns? The vast majority are not drug addicts or criminals. Most are law-abiding citizens who believe they are making their homes safer by having a gun. They simply may not realize the danger posed by an unsecured gun, especially when children are around. They also may think that simply talking to kids about the dangers of guns or hiding their guns is enough; too often that is a deadly mistake.
Public education campaigns can and must play a critical role in inspiring individuals to make safer, more responsible choices around gun access and ownership -- reframing the issue from a debate about guns to a conversation about child safety and parental responsibility.
Some of these campaigns have already succeeded.
The ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign, a collaboration between Brady and the American Academy of Pediatrics, encourages parents to ask if there are unsafe guns in the homes where their children visit. We routinely ask other questions related to our children's safety. This question should go on every parent's list. Since we began this campaign in 1999, nearly 20 million parents have started asking this potentially lifesaving question, and child gun deaths have decreased 20 percent.
Despite these successes, children die every day as a result of unsafe guns in their homes. We still have a long way to go in raising awareness and educating parents thorough messages that call attention to the issue and encourage healthy dialogue. We have seen the impact of public safety campaigns in reducing dangerous and risky behaviors such as smoking and drunk driving.
The time has come for us to double down on creating the same kind of messages and campaigns around guns, shifting public perception to safety and taking the emotion out of a debate that has gotten tangled up in the second amendment. And that is the power of Evolve's "Playthings" PSA.
Given the life-and-death importance of this issue, we need to explore every avenue of engagement. By educating the public about the risks of guns in the home and the importance of keeping guns securely stored, we can make this country safer for everyone, especially our children. We should think twice before dismissing anything that manages to rise above the din of political debate and gets people to pay attention to gun safety.