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Bader: Gun safety isn't just about laws

The July 30 incident in McMinnville — in which a man fired 200 rounds from multiple weapons from inside a house, striking several neighboring homes — showed that Yamhill County is not immune to a gun violence epidemic that has killed more than 10,000 people and injured another 20,000 in the U.S. so far this year.

I had already been shaken out of complacency by the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. But toward what?

Discussions about gun safety so often turn into arguments over legislative and regulatory measures, emphasizing our differences over how to balance personal freedoms and collective responsibilities instead of our shared interest in healthy communities.

Outside of the political arena, how can we come together to protect our kids and neighbors from gun violence?

 

Focus on secure storage

In 2020, firearm-related injuries surpassed motor vehicle crashes to become the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States. In 2021, there were at least 392 unintentional shootings by children in the U.S., many made possible by unsecured firearms.

In two separate national surveys of firearms owners with children in their households, less than half reported storing all of their guns safely.

Thirteen states, including Oregon, have laws mandating secure storage. But the surveys did not identify how many respondents lived in such states, and one survey noted such laws are difficult to enforce.

For Yamhill County — where the sheriff has been issuing an average of 243 concealed handgun licenses every month, amounting to 4,490 since mid-2020 — a 50% rate for safe storage could mean thousands of unsecured firearms.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has extensive safety resources on its website, encouraging members to keep firearms unloaded and locked in a place inaccessible to children; to use gun locking devices; and to store and lock ammunition in separate locations. Peer-reviewed research suggests such measures can significantly reduce unintentional injuries and suicide.

Debbie Lindgren is a retired high school teacher in Lake Oswego who started volunteering with Be SMART, an educational program promoting gun safety, after a family member’s workplace shooting in 2017 that left two people dead.

At a community event where she was handing out gun locks and safety information, a woman approached her table, curious about how to store her two hunting rifles. They discussed how, because the woman didn’t need them on a daily basis, she could keep them locked up unloaded.

Then the woman shared that she had recently bought a handgun for home safety, which she preferred to keep accessible. Lindgren suggested a biometric safe that could only be opened with her fingerprint, and shared some of the data highlighting the danger of unsecured firearms.

Lindgren went on to reference the 2012 shooting at Clackamas Town Center, which left three people dead and one seriously wounded. It was, she noted, committed with a stolen firearm.

And one study estimated that between 2012 and 2015, some 17,302 firearms were stolen from individual gun owners in Oregon.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself!” the woman exclaimed, imagining her guns stolen to hurt others. She promised to stop by Cabela’s on her way home to buy gun safes.

“That’s why I do this,” Lindgren told me, “because hopefully by the end of that day, there were three firearms secured that weren’t before.”

Nor is this just about children or strangers: Lindgren’s father was recently diagnosed with moderate dementia. “So it’s time to worry about what he might have access to,” she said.

 

Normalize firearms questions in the home

Many of us with kids have a standard script for organizing playdates: “Claire is allergic to nuts.” “Alexander’s scared of big dogs.”

I’ve learned from other parents’ examples to add a non-judgmental question about gun storage: “If you have any guns in the house, can you just confirm how they’re stored?”

David Heddy is a longtime hunter and gun owner who lives in Newberg. He has become comfortable having those conversations when making plans for his daughter.

He told me it felt confrontational and awkward at first, but he sees his job as a parent as ensuring his kid’s safety. “I was able to be non-confrontational when I realized it wasn’t about that other parent, it was about my child.”

Sharon Smith, a retired teacher in McMinnville, bought a gun safe at Bi-Mart after her daughter said she wouldn’t bring Smith’s grandkids over until she did.

Smith is of the generation “that keeps our deer rifles under our beds,” she told me. But she acknowledged, “We should have been asking all along.”

When her husband was in ninth grade, she confided, one of his classmates accidentally shot and killed one of their friends with a .22 left loaded in a garage after a hunting trip.

 

Know what resources are available

When someone in your household or community shows warning signs of harming themselves or others, removing their access to firearms can save lives — including their own.

While mass shootings attract most of the news coverage, they account for only 0.2% of gun deaths.

Sixty percent of gun deaths in America are by suicide. In 2019, 466 Oregonians died by firearm suicide, up from 337 in 2011.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which connects callers to resources.

Oregon is also one of 19 states with an extreme risk protection order law, commonly known as a “red flag” law. That enables household members or law enforcement officers to request a court order that temporarily restricts a person’s access to guns when that person presents an imminent risk.

Oregon’s law went into effect in 2018. It was co-sponsored by State Sens. Ginny Burdick, Democrat of Portland, and Brian Boquist, Independent of Dallas, whose district includes parts of Yamhill County.

Boquist is a gun enthusiast, so his leadership on the bill came as a surprise to many. But his stepson died by firearm suicide in 2016.

He told Willamette Week at the time, “I don’t see it as a Second Amendment bill. I see this as a suicide prevention bill.”

Other resources include Yamhill County’s 24-7 emergency crisis line for urgent mental health services, 844-842-8200; SafeOregon, a tip line for students, school staff, and others to report potential school safety threats, which can be done anonymously via e-mail, phone, text, mobile app and SafeOregon.com; and school teachers and counselors, who are all trained to assess and support students’ needs.

Government actions are important. But we have just as many opportunities and responsibilities as individuals and community members to protect the people we love.

Promoting secure firearm storage, normalizing conversations about gun safety and making sure people experiencing crises do not turn harmful thoughts into fatal violence are tangible and meaningful steps that we can all take.

Guest writer Christine Bader lives in McMinnville with her husband and their two children. She is author of “The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil,” and previously served as Amazon’s social responsibility director. She teaches in Linfield University’s business program as a visiting scholar, serves on McMinnville’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, and helps coach the Valley Panthers Rugby Club. She  is posting links to the sources she used in this article on her Twitter feed, at https://twitter.com/christinebader. 

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