Do you have an unlocked gun in your home? Why more parents should ask this question.

A grandfather’s plea: Store your guns properly to prevent child shootings

Most accidental child shootings could be prevented if gun owners properly secured their weapons with a gun lock, Louisville gun safety activist Luther Brown says.
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Most accidental child shootings could be prevented if gun owners properly secured their weapons with a gun lock, Louisville gun safety activist Luther Brown says.

The parents left to go to a nearby store.

That's when an 11-year-old Bell County boy found a loaded gun in his home in the Hulan community and accidentally shot his 6-year-old sister in the head in February. Kentucky State Police said at the time of the shooting there were several loaded guns in the house that were not locked.

In October, Eutta Phelps, 68, was heading home after a church service in Pulaski County when two kids in the back seat found a gun. The two kids were passing the gun back and forth in the back seat, when the gun discharged, shooting Phelps, who was in the passenger seat, and killing her.

Kentucky State Police said the two juveniles, ages 12 and 17, didn't know the gun was loaded.

Such tragedies are common in Kentucky and across the country. The Herald-Leader found in 2017 that at least 36 children in Kentucky were accidentally shot by themselves or another child with a gun an adult gave them or left within their reach during the previous five years. Of those, 15 died and 21 were wounded.

Some of those accidental shootings might have been prevented if parents and caregivers had asked one simple question when their kids stayed with friends or relatives: Do you have an unlocked or unsecured gun in your home?

Lexington leaders announced Friday that the city is joining the ASK initiative, Asking Saves Kids. It is a nationwide push to make parents and caregivers more aware of gun safety and kids, said Dr. Susan Pollack, a pediatrician and director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Injury Program at the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Research Center.

"This is not about politics and it's not about the Second Amendment," Pollack said. "This is about the safety of kids."

Parents often ask other parents about allergies or large dogs before allowing a child to play or stay the night at someone's house. It's just as important to ask about unsecured guns, Pollack said.

At a news conference, Mayor Jim Gray said more kids die of gunshot wounds nationwide than die of cancer. Nationally, gunshot wounds are the third-leading cause of death in children, killing nearly 1,300 a year, according to a 2017 study.

"Safe gun storage would also prevent suicides and would prevent the theft of guns that are later used in homicides," Gray said.

Of Lexington's 13 homicides so far this year, two of the alleged shooters were under the age of 18. One of the victims was also under 18.

Efforts to create specific legal penalties for adults who leave guns unsecured around kids have been ignored by the Kentucky legislature. A state House Bill that would have made it a crime to leave loaded guns unsecured around minors died without getting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year.

Putting a gun on top of bureau or just educating kids about guns is not enough, said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the Fayette County Commissioner of Health. Kids are naturally curious. They will find a gun, Humbaugh said.

Many gun locks are only $10, he said, and the health department's public outreach programs for new mothers and babies gives free gun locks to new parents who can not afford them.

Pollack said many people secure their guns in their homes but not in their cars or trucks.

"I have even opened a car door and found a gun on the seat," Pollack said.

Pollack said the initiative launched on Friday because it's the first official day of summer.

"In the summer, more kids go to play in different places," Pollack said. "We are trying to get people to become more comfortable with asking that question. "

Pollack said they have found the question works.

"Most people, when they stop and think about it, do something to secure their guns," Pollack said.

A child shoots himself or another child in Kentucky once every seven weeks, on average, according to a database created by the Herald-Leader using police reports, news stories, obituaries, social media and other public sources. Law-enforcement off