How to talk to your kids about gun violence, and tips for keeping them safe
We are heartbroken for the families in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, who are trying to heal from the mass shootings that have left more than 30 people dead.
On Aug. 3 in El Paso, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart and killed 22 people and injured 22 others. Shortly after, nine people were killed and 27 others were injured when a gunman opened fire in a popular nightlife district in Dayton. There have been 251 mass shootings this year in America; there have only been 216 days.
Our kids, always aware of more than we think, have likely picked up on the traumatic news and have hard questions. Seattle's Child reached out to Kristen Ellingboe, communications manager at the Alliance for Gun Responsibility for insight on how to talk to our kids about gun violence and practical ways our community can prevent future shootings.
Question: When elementary school-aged kids ask questions about the recent mass shootings, how should parents respond?
A: Parents should have an honest conversation with their children about mass shootings. It is better to have an informed, supportive discussion in a safe place than to let children put the pieces together themselves based on what they are hearing secondhand. Parents should say that we have a problem with guns in our country, but that we are working to fix the problem and that nothing is more important than keeping kids safe. It is also important to remind children that mass shootings account for a very small fraction of gun deaths in our country. Children should never, ever touch guns and should immediately find a grownup if they find one or if another child tries to show them one.
Q: How can parents keep their kids safe? Should we be afraid?
A: We should be angry. Our children are needlessly put at risk because lawmakers refuse to act. We can keep our kids safe by ensuring they don't have access to guns — that means securely storing any firearms in the home, asking questions about firearms at friends' and family members' homes, and talking to your children about the danger of firearms. We also keep our kids safe by electing gun-violence-prevention champions, demanding that our leaders take action, and supporting the organizations calling for an end to this epidemic.
Q: If you see someone post something online and worry that they might commit an act of violence, what should you do?
A: Reach out to them or to a family member or friend. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are a valuable tool that allow family members, household members and law enforcement to temporarily restrict access to firearms from people who pose a risk of harming themselves or others. In the 2019 session, the Washington Legislature passed a bill clarifying the law's application to minors. More information about ERPOs can be found here.
Q: What gun-violence-prevention policies should Seattle parents be supporting?
A: In Washington state, parents should support evidence-based policies like restricting access to high-capacity magazines, which make mass shootings more deadly. Washingtonians should also advocate for strong policies we have in place in our state — like expanded background checks, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and restrictions on semi-automatic assault rifles — at the federal level.
Q: Why are firearms the second leading cause of fatal injury for children?
A: The simplest answer is easy access to firearms. Across the country, eight children a day are unintentionally killed or wounded by an unsecured firearm in their home. Securely storing firearms out of reach of children, can help prevent tragedies like unintentional shootings and firearm suicides.
How we all can help
Here's what you can do to support the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton:
The El Paso Community Foundation is accepting donations for victims of the shooting.
The American Red Cross is accepting donations online.
Public Good has launched a fundraiser benefiting Dayton and El Paso victims.
For help with emotional distress and/or suicidal thoughts, call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
Sydney Parker is managing editor of Seattle's Child.