Parenting has never been an easy assignment. Meaningful and joyful, yes. Easy, no. We can all agree that parents need all the help they can get to keep their kids safe and healthy in an increasingly complicated world.
Every day across America nine children are shot in unintentional shootings. Yet, many parents are not aware that one in three U.S. homes with children has a gun. In Pennsylvania, the percentage is slightly higher, at 36 percent, including 50,000 Pennsylvania children living in a home with a loaded gun that is stored unlocked. This is simply a risk that parents need to be prepared to manage. 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.
A new public awareness campaign in Allegheny County -- the Asking Saves Kids campaign -- has partnered with dozens of local organizations and is running public service announcements to help parents put the topic of kids and guns on the agenda in their everyday conversations with other parents.
Just as it has become common to hear parents asking about nut allergies or discussing how many child safety seats might be needed for a trip to the zoo, parents can take an important step to ensure the safety of our children simply by asking, "Is there an unlocked gun in your home?" when we send them to another home to play.
The ASK campaign's public service announcements have fun with the idea that parents already engage in potentially awkward conversations on all kinds of topics: bad language, lapses in manners, even finding adult things we thought were hidden.
The campaign reminds parents, "Awkward conversations come with being a parent, but one could save your child's life. Ask if there is an unlocked gun where your child will play." The campaign seeks to put this important question in the context of everyday responsible parenting, where it belongs, rather than a polarizing political debate that obscures the real things we can do to keep our children safe.
The Allegheny County ASK campaign is grounded in local research showing that parents who own guns view talking about gun safety as a "no-brainer," and welcome the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and concern about gun safety. Parents who do not own guns want to be reminded to ask about guns, as they don't generally have firearms on their "radar" as a typical parenting conversation topic. They are looking for comfortable ways to break the ice on the topic.
The ASK campaign message and materials are intended to help parents start asking this simple question. The area organizations that have pledged to spread the ASK message serve parents in a variety of capacities and include the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The campaign's Facebook page hosts the TV PSAs and provides a way for Allegheny County parents to share the campaign message with their community networks. Ideally, once Pittsburgh-area parents get in the swing of "asking," it will become as second nature as the other important questions we ask, and the impact of the program will be felt long into the future.
For those of us who own guns, it is still very important to teach our children about gun safety. But research shows clearly that teaching kids responsibility on its own is not enough. Every parent knows that our kids are naturally curious. We can think about our own experiences as kids and what we found and played with unbeknownst to our own parents.
It is dangerous to assume we can predict what children will do if they find a gun, especially if that gun is in the home of another child. But we do know tragic deaths from children playing with guns can be avoided. When so many children in Pennsylvania live in a home with a loaded gun stored unlocked, a simple conversation could save a life.
The ASK campaign in Allegheny County is helping parents ask each other this simple question: "Is there an unlocked gun in your house?" If you know a parent in Allegheny County, lend them your support in this important endeavor. If you are a parent, now is the time to start asking.
Dan Gross is the president of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence, a national non-profit that develops focused and empowering public health and safety campaigns that promote the simple steps parents, kids and others can take to prevent violence affecting youth. First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM