The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force voted Wednesday to recommend that the General Assembly support a statewide firearm safety initiative. That effort would focus on spreading awareness of safe firearm storage and would distribute free gun locks. The recommendation will go into the task force’s action agenda for the legislature’s short session in the spring.
The Task Force heard a presentation Wednesday from Scott Proescholdbell, an epidemiologist with the State Division of Public Health. In it, he laid out these facts and figures:
- 51 North Carolina children were killed with a gun in 2016.
- Firearm injuries resulted in 97 children being hospitalized and 314 emergency department visits.
In his presentation to the task force, Proescholdbell said one factor in those deaths is that more than half of North Carolina gun owners leave their firearms unsecured. He says one survey used that data and called back North Carolina parents who own guns. Of those parents, 62 percent said they leave their firearms unsecured, meaning not in a gun cabinet or with a trigger or cable lock.
“If parents are more knowledgeable about making sure firearms are safely secured, then hopefully that will lead to a decrease in kids who find them -- either accidentally or playing with them -- or in a situation where a kid is trying to commit suicide,” Proescholdbell said.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children nationally, and in the state, according to the NC State Center for Health Statistics. Guns are one of the most lethal methods of attempting suicide.
That same presentation has also been heard by a firearm safety stakeholder group convened by the NC Child Fatality Task Force and Safe Kids NC. The stakeholder group brought together educators, law enforcement, health experts and advocates on both ends of the gun debate to help develop a statewide approach to educating the public about firearm safety.
"They identified the target as all gun owners. And they identified the target behavior as use of a gun lock,” said the Task Force's Executive Director Kella Hatcher. “That was something that was something that was easy and inexpensive or even potentially free to get people to do.”
Based on recommendations from the stakeholder group, the Task Force voted to recommend the General Assembly support a statewide firearm safety initiative, to fund firearm safety education, community outreach and free gun lock distribution. The Task Force will also recommend the formation of an ongoing firearm safety stakeholder group with diverse representation.