Back to School? It’s time to Be SMART.


Like you, I know exactly where I was when I learned about the Sandy Hook School shooting in December of 2012: I was walking across the campus near the teaching hospital where I worked, nine months pregnant, when I got an unfathomable news alert on my phone.  Shortly after my daughter was born, I became an activist in the gun violence prevention and gun safety movement, determined to not let a day go by that I was not actively doing something to help prevent future tragedies. What I have learned in the past several years is that, sadly, in addition to school shootings and tragic, daily gun violence, unsecured guns in homes, cars, and handbags also steal the lives children and teens each year: 101 in 2018 and 59 thus far in 2019.  There are many reasons some parents choose to own a gun, or need to carry a gun for their work. However, there are also evidenced-based practices all parents can use to ensure their kids are safe if they are in a home with firearms, summarized by the easy-to-remember acronym Be SMART

S: Secure all guns in homes and vehicles. 

Safe storage of guns is always an adult responsibility. Telling a child to avoid guns is not effective. Even if you think a gun is hidden, studies have demonstrated that many times, the child knows where the gun is. Guns must be locked, (with a cable lock, a lockbox, or gun safe) with ammunition locked up separately. 

M: Model responsible behavior around guns.

If you’re a parent who owns a gun, make sure that you are a role model for gun safety.  For example, do not clean your gun in a room with a child. Do not leave a gun on a counter or where a child could reach it, and don’t point a gun at anyone as a joke. 

A: Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in homes. Never assume. 

Just as moms ask about food allergies, pets, or other safety concerns we might have before dropping our child to a play date or a babysitter’s house, it’s important to ask about guns. This may feel awkward at first.  If you are shy about asking the question, ask over text! It can be as simple as texting, “Do you mind if I ask a couple of safety questions? Do you have any pets or weapons in your home?” If the answer is yes, ask if they are locked up.

R: Recognize the role of guns in suicide.  

We know that anxiety and depression are affecting more and more children A national survey of high school students revealed that 17% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide.  Suicide by firearm is 85% lethal  It’s important to ensure that guns are kept away from anyone, adult or child, who may be at risk for suicide, either by removing them from the home, or locking them up.  It’s important to note that some young people who attempt or complete suicide do not show obvious signs of distress first. Suicide can be an impusive act, and we all know children, teens, and young adults are especially impulsive until their brains fully develop in their mid-20s.  It is safest to ensure the most lethal means of suicide are not available.

T: Tell your friends to Be SMART. 

Normalize the culture around gun safety.  Forty years ago, people didn’t ask about drinking and driving.  When I was growing up, no one ever spoke about food allergies. We can do the same for gun safety: have the conversation.

We can and should also have age-appropriate conversations with our kids about gun safety.  For younger kids, keep it simple. Say, “If you ever see a gun, don’t touch it. Tell an adult right away. You will not be in trouble.”  For older children, tell them to immediately leave a situation if an unsecured gun is present. Brainstorm strategies they can use, such as saying they got a text from Mom and need to go home now.   We put our children in swimming classes, research car seats and scrutinize sunscreen ingredients. Let’s put that same time and energy into ensuring our kids are safe around firearms.

About our guest author: 

Sara Kerai is the DC Mom of a 1st grader, a member of the leadership team for the DC chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and a therapist in private practice in the Brookland neighborhood.  She is hooked on her Peloton bike and loves camping with her family: 2 nights maximum.