A pledge to ensure students’ families are continuously reminded about the importance of safely storing firearms is gaining significant traction in school districts across the country, according to a gun-safety advocacy organization.
In 2018, school boards across the country began passing resolutions based on that pledge that require their schools to distribute flyers to families about how to safely store firearms in their homes. Over the past year, the number of students whose families are receiving these flyers at home has increased from about two million to eight and a half million, according to Shannon Watts, founder of the advocacy organization Moms Demand Action.
And that number continues to increase. The most recent sign-on came on Dec. 13 in Orange County, Fla., where the local school board voted unanimously to begin sharing the information with families in January, and annually in subsequent years. That means its 209,000 students will be sent home with the information.
“If guns aren’t properly stored, it can result in tragedy and that includes children finding firearms, and wounding or killing themselves or other people,” Watts said, citing a 2019 report from the U.S. Secret Service that shows the majority of school shooters use firearms from their homes. “Secure storage can prevent these things from happening.”
It’s a relatively small step, and nobody is really convinced that a fact sheet alone will prevent gun violence either at home or at school. But it does keep the issue front-and-center, on people’s minds, and could help normalize conversations about firearm safety, Watts said.
Researchers estimate that fewer than half of gun owners safely store all their guns, generally defined as storing them locked, unloaded, and separately from ammunition. Research also estimates that more than 4.6 million children live in households where loaded guns are not kept under lock and key.
While more than half of U.S. states have child access prevention laws, their details vary significantly, and often aren’t well known.
So, schools are an important conduit to raising awareness, Watts said.
Despite political rhetoric, there is common ground
The issue of safe firearm storage isn’t as political as the general right to own or carry guns, Watts said, and the organization has found success in communities that lean both liberal and conservative.
Districts in states like Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and New Mexico, among others, have taken up the issue.
In August, California became the first to enact a statewide policy that all public and charter schools notify families about secure firearm storage.
Regardless of location or political values, there seems to be a nearly universal agreement that if people own guns that they should be stored safely, Watts said.
“There’s certainly political rhetoric around this issue and politicians have used it to drum up excitement, but we have seen action and progress on this issue where we haven’t seen it on other issues around guns,” Watts said. “This is a place where we just find real common ground. It shouldn’t be political. It shouldn’t be polarizing. It’s basic responsibility if you’re going to have a gun in your home.”
The National Rifle Association, the leading advocacy organization for gun owners’ rights, has several pages on its website about the importance of safely storing guns. The group urges its members to store firearms unloaded, out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet or safe.
Watts said she is hopeful that the movement will continue to spread to districts across the country, and that more statewide policies, like California’s, will be enacted.
Linda Coffin, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Florida, said Orange County passing its safe storage resolution is proof broader success is possible.
“Every adult has a role to play to keep guns out of the reach of children,” Coffin said. “We will continue to do this life-saving work in communities across the country until we reach every student’s home. Hopefully, 8.5 million students will be just a drop in the bucket a year or two from now.”