Ensure the safety of our children with common-sense gun laws

Secure storage laws don’t infringe on our Second Amendment rights. Instead, they go hand-in-hand and help prevent unnecessary tragedies.
A woman advocating for stricter gun control laws on March 20, 2021, outside the Georgia state Capitol. (Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A woman advocating for stricter gun control laws on March 20, 2021, outside the Georgia state Capitol. (Robin Rayne/ZUMA Wire/TNS)

As a pediatrician, a mother and a proud gun owner, I find myself at the unique intersection of two crucial aspects of American life: the right to bear arms and the imperative need to safeguard the health and well-being of our children. In the two states where I have lived, worked, and raised my children — Utah and Georgia — gun ownership is cherished and common. At the same time, we must confront the harsh truth and uncomfortable reality that the widespread and irresponsible presence of guns profoundly damages the physical safety and mental health of our children.

We often hear our leaders talk about the United States’ gun violence epidemic as being secondary to mental health issues — that addressing the latter will fix the former — but I counter that gun violence is fueling mental health issues.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Because we can’t promise our kids that they will return unscathed every time they head out the front door, it makes sense that anxiety and depression are rising among youth. But rather than prioritizing common-sense solutions to address gun violence, such as requiring guns to be securely stored and background checks be conducted on all gun purchases, parents and kids are just told to prepare for mass shootings — like they’re inevitable.

For a generation now, children in classrooms have been taught how to react in the event of a school shooting. They’ve been trained on the best ways to run, to hide, to fight. They’ve learned how to stop someone from bleeding out, how to be quiet, how to survive. They experience lockdown drill after lockdown drill.

These efforts, as well intentioned as they may be, expose our children to trauma, stress, and anxiety — in turn hindering their development and their academic performance.

But instead of training our kids on how to handle a mass shooting or a gunshot wound, why don’t we address the root of the problem: the ease of access people in this country and especially in this state have to deadly weapons?

One of my top concerns as a doctor is that parents leave their guns unattended, unlocked and loaded in the presence of their kids. Guns are the leading cause of death for American children, and 4.6 million children in the United States live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked gun.

Because household guns are usually the most easily accessible guns for kids, they’re a major source of weapons used in school shootings, youth suicides and unintentional deaths. Even when parents think their guns are safely hidden and out of reach of their kids, the data shows that children are more observant than we think — they often know where the guns in the house are and might even have handled them before.

I’ve been a longtime advocate of secure storage laws, which promote responsible gun storage and hold gun owners accountable for failing to take simple steps to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. These laws are incredibly effective at preventing youth gun deaths and injuries, and they should be the standard across the country.

In Georgia, though there is child access prevention law that imposes liability on a gun owner after they have failed to keep a gun inaccessible to a minor, there is no secure storage requirement in place, despite what groups like Georgia Clinicians for Gun Safety and the Georgia Majority for Gun Safety are advocating for. In recent years, the rate of children caught bringing guns to school in Georgia has tripled. I’m a member of the Georgia chapter of GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety, and I know just how popular this safety measure is among gun owners in the state. But often, only the voice of a small but very vocal minority breaks through the chatter. As responsible gun owners, we’re fighting to make ourselves heard, too.

If we can reduce gun violence, we can reduce the mental health stress our kids face just by living their lives. I firmly believe in the right to own firearms. This right is not in tension with the responsibility of making smart decisions to ensure the safety of our children and our communities. Gun laws like secure storage don’t infringe on our Second Amendment rights — instead, they go hand-in-hand and help prevent unnecessary tragedies. To protect our kids, we need our representatives to prioritize public safety, treat this nation’s gun violence problem as the public health crisis that it is, and pass secure gun storage laws.

Claudia Fruin is a pediatrician, mother, gun owner and senior ambassador for the Georgia chapter of GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety.