High school students across the country engaged in a wildcat walkout to protest gun violence on Feb. 20, taking a message to state and federal legislators that they intend to be the last generation of U.S. schoolchildren who have to live in fear of school shootings.
In Miami on Feb. 21, students at all eight archdiocesan high schools left their classrooms and went either outdoors or to their school gyms to mark 17 minutes of silence and prayer—one minute for each victim.
"Some schools did a prayer service and some did prayers," Kim Pryzbylski, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, told Catholic News Service. "Some students were talking about leaving campus and going different places. We didn't want that to happen. We thought it would be more meaningful to do it as a school community."
Student organizers of marches and events around the country are working toward a March 24 “March for Our Lives” in Washington that organizers hope will draw as many as 500,000 demonstrators for gun control to the nation’s capital.
The remarkable children’s crusade against guns was provoked by the massacre of 17 people at a high school in Florida on Feb. 14 and comes at a time of growing receptivity to tighter restrictions on guns in the United States. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Feb. 20, U.S. voters now support “stricter gun laws,” by 66 to 31 percent. That is the highest level of support for greater gun restrictions ever measured by the independent national poll. Seventy-five percent say that Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.
Even 50 percent of gun owners told Quinnipiac they support tighter laws. Tougher gun laws were also supported by 62 percent of white voters with no college degree and reached 58 percent support overall among white men, usually reliable supporters of the lightest restrictions on guns. A little over two years ago tighter gun regulation was endorsed by only 47 percent of the voting public, Quinnipiac researchers say, so the new figures suggest a significant change of opinion, perhaps encouraged a series of shooting incidents across the nation in recent months that have claimed scores of lives.
The desire for stronger gun control may not translate into more caution with gun storage among owners of firearms.
A Marist poll released on Feb. 23 reached similar results, reporting that 71 percent of American adults, including 58 percent of gun owners, agree the laws governing the sale of firearms need to be stricter.
Quinnipiac pollsters found that support for universal background checks was just about unanimous, at 97 percent overall. Surprisingly, that same level of support—97 percent—for universal checks was also measured among gun owners. According to the pollsters, support for gun control on other questions is at its highest level since the Quinnipiac University Poll began focusing on this issue in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in 2012. Nearly 70 percent now support a nationwide ban on the sale of military-style weapons, and 83 percent support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.
According to Quinnipiac, 67 percent of Americans believe it is “too easy” to buy a gun in the United States today. Fifty-nine percent also believe if more people carried guns, the U.S. would be less safe.
According to the Marist results, 77 percent of Americans who say a candidate’s position on gun policy will have a major influence on their vote in this year’s midterm elections believe gun laws need to be strengthened.
Women (66 percent) are more likely than men (51 percent) to say gun policy plays a key role in their vote.
The Parkland shooting “revitalized the debate over gun policy,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “If this intensity of debate continues to shape discourse through the midterms, candidates running for office will need to pay careful attention to the issue.”
But the desire among the general public for stronger gun control measures may not translate into a more cautious approach to gun storage among owners of firearms, especially among gun-owning parents of teens deemed at-risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study this week that suggests gun owners should do more to secure their weapons in the home.
According to the study, millions of U.S. children live in homes where firearms are left loaded or unlocked or both. The A.A.P. reports that a child’s history of depression, other mental health conditions or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder “does not appear to appreciably influence caretaker decisions about whether to have firearms in the home or store all household firearms in accordance with American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.”
Millions of U.S. children live in homes where firearms are left loaded or unlocked or both.
The A.A.P. recommends that “the safest home for a child is one without firearms,” but that the risk of firearm injury can be reduced substantially, if not eliminated, by storing all household firearms locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition. The study authors point out that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 17 and that firearms were used in more than 40 percent of all suicides.
For homes with children and guns, “the odds are roughly 2 to 1 that firearms are not stored in accordance with recommendations promulgated by the A.A.P.,” regardless of a child’s self-harm risk factors.
According to the study authors: “Given the prevalence of household firearms in the United States, our findings suggest that millions of U.S. children are placed at substantially higher risk of fatal firearm injury, especially suicide, than would be the case were parents to follow guidelines first put forward by the A.A.P. more than a quarter century ago.”
A.A.P. researchers report that firearms are present in about 42 percent of U.S. households but only about one-third of those households are properly storing firearms. Why parents of at-risk teens do not seem to take greater precautions is attributable to four factors, they report. First, many cases of teenage depression are not recognized. Also, parents and caretakers may not understand, or may downplay, the chance of self-harm among high-risk youth with access to household firearms. Parents may also be overconfident in their reliance on “household behavioral” controls as opposed to environmental controls like gun storage devices, to manage gun access. Finally, storing guns and ammunition in locked locations is “challenging” for many.
Another recent study corroborates the A.A.P. results. According to a report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 54 percent of U.S. gun owners do not store all their guns safely.
“The survey findings indicate a real public health emergency,” said lead author Cassandra Crifasi, an assistant professor at the school’s Center for Gun Policy and Research, in a press statement that accompanied the study’s release on Feb. 22.
“Household gun ownership can increase the risk of homicides, suicide and unintentional shootings in the home, but practicing safe storage for all guns reduces these risks,” Ms. Crifasi added.
The Johns Hopkins survey found that gun owners who reported that their storage decisions were influenced by concerns about home defense were 30 percent less likely to practice safe storage for all their firearms. “Many bring guns into their homes for self-defense, but unsecured guns can lead to unintentional shootings, suicides, and tragic cases of troubled teens using guns to commit acts of violence,” said Ms. Crifasi.
The survey also found that children under the age of 18 were present in a little over one-third of the homes with guns. Slightly more than half, or 55 percent, of gun owners with children under 18 reported storing all of their guns safely.
According to the Johns Hopkins press statement, in 2016, the most recent year of complete data, there were 1,637 firearm deaths among children under the age of 18; 39 percent of these deaths were the result of suicide.
The study indicated that gun owners who reported that a gun safety training course had influenced the way guns were stored in their homes were twice as likely to practice safe storage for all their guns.
“It’s encouraging to see the positive associations between safety training and reporting safe storage practices,” said study co-author Daniel Webster, Sc.D., M.P.H., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “Requiring gun purchasers to take safety training classes, as a handful of states already do, might lead to more gun owners storing their guns safely.”