Sally Rue is a local gun owner who used to store firearms in a closet in her home. Now, as a member of Juneau’s chapter of Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense in America and the coordinator for the group’s Be SMART campaign, she’s changed her ways and hopes to help others learn to do the same.
Rue said that children in Alaska suffer from the effects of gun violence and unintentional shootings at higher rates than in other states and many gun owners don’t understand how often firearms are used in suicides and unintentional shootings.
“My husband and I are hunters, and I’m embarrassed to say we used to keep our guns in a closet,” she said in a Monday morning phone interview.
According to a new report by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund on unintentional shootings by children, Alaska has one of the highest rates of unintentional shootings by children in the country and has since 2015. In addition, according to the report, unintentional shooting deaths by children have increased over 30% during the pandemic and 2021 is on track to surpass that, with the highest number of January to June incidents of the past seven years.
Rue said that as a gun owner who grew up in a family of hunters, she understands that guns are an essential part of life for many, especially in Alaska, where many people hunt to feed their families.
“It’s an adult responsibility to keep kids safe from guns, not a kid’s responsibility. It’s amazing how many people have stories of when they were kids and went through parents’ bureaus and found a gun,” she said. She noted that her family purchased a gun case to store firearms after she learned more about how easily children can get their hands on firearms.
Rue said the Juneau chapter of Moms Demand Action is focused on helping adults know how to keep kids safe. She said the local chapter has about 50 members and started in 2018 after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“We are a group of volunteers committed to doing what we can to reduce gun violence and to encourage secure storage of firearms,” she said. “It makes it really urgent that we educate people so our friends and neighbors who want to do the right thing know what that thing is.”
She said that the need for gun safety is “more urgent than ever,” as the country moves closer to the anniversary of the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and reels from news of another school shooting in Michigan last week.
Rue said that the Juneau Chapter of Moms Demand Action held a vigil via Zoom on Tuesday night to remember the anniversary of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, and they plan to continue education efforts to reduce the incidence of unintentional shootings and suicides in Alaska.
Rue said the group’s Be SMART program is a critical component of the group’s educational efforts.
Be SMART is an acronym that reminds people to:
■ Secure all guns in homes and vehicles.
■ Model responsible behavior around guns.
■ Ask about unsecured guns in the home of friends and relatives before a child visits.
■ Recognize the role of guns in suicide.
■ Tell your peers to Be SMART about guns.
Rue said firearms should be unloaded, locked and stored separately from ammunition.
“Unintentional child shootings are 100% preventable,” she said.
Rue said that safely storing firearms also keeps them away from people barred from having guns or those struggling with mental health issues that could lead to suicide.
She said that guns can be secured with cable locks, thread through the barrel of a firearm, trigger locks or a gun case.
The NRA also advises storing guns so they aren’t accessible to unauthorized people and keeping a gun unloaded until it’s ready to use.
According to NRA safety rules, “Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns. A person’s particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Dozens of gun storage devices, as well as locking devices that attach directly to the gun, are available. However, mechanical locking devices, like the mechanical safeties built into guns, can fail and should not be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun-safety rules.”
Not my child
Rue said many parents think their children won’t be interested in guns or will shy away from touching them if they find one.
But, Rue said that Everytown for Gun Safety research indicates that children who have attended gun safety training will still touch a gun out of curiosity and that most children know where family guns are kept and how to access them. She cited the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Alaska Division of Public Health, that showed that nearly half of Alaska’s high school students reported that they could get and be ready to fire a loaded gun.
Rue said that the group works with the Juneau Police Department and Juneau schools to get the word out about safe gun storage. She said that pre-pandemic Gross Alaska Theaters showed a short, educational video on the topic.
While attending school open houses, she said that parents were generally receptive to their message.
“A lot of people said they had guns, but they are properly stored and then you’d ask what if your kid goes to play at another house and you could see the light go on,” she said.
Rue offered practical tips for parents to ask other parents about firearms in the home.
“Make it part of the general safety discussion,” she said. “Ask questions like do you have a pet or serve peanuts, do you have firearms in your house, do you store them securely,” she offered.
Rue said that the group plans to continue its educational efforts and welcomes new members. To learn more, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.