Psych Services: Your kids are bored – Don’t let them find a gun

As we struggle with the pandemic, safe weapon storage is more important than ever. Times are desperate. We’re unnerved by missed paychecks, shortages and stories of makeshift morgues. Kids are stuck at home all day, and they’re exploring.

In the best of times, Texans are too casual about gun storage. Tragically, we lead the nation in accidental gun deaths. Simple precautions could save lives. Let’s not stick to the status quo in a radically altered world.

HPD data shows that more than 7,100 guns were stolen from Houston vehicles between Jan. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2019. Sgt. Tracy Hicks in Auto Theft was kind enough to explain why.

Back in the day, thieves wanted your forgotten laptop, he said. Now that it’s only worth about $40, they care less. A stolen gun, on the other hand, can sell for as much as $600 to $900.

Sgt. Hicks said crooks systematically work their way through parking lots breaking car window after car window searching for just weapons: “Smash, smash, smash.”

Hidden in Plain Sight?

If a criminal acquires your gun, it’s a shame. If the little bandits you live with get it, it’s an unspeakable tragedy. A child or teen who found an unlocked gun is shot accidentally every day in the United States. Please don’t put your family through this.

As Sgt. Hicks said, “hidden between winter sweaters” is not safe gun storage. I’ve had HPD parents swear in my office that their children couldn’t possibly find their weapons. When their kids were called in from the waiting room, a little cautiously and a little proudly, they could report the exact location.

Forbidden fruit is more tempting, the sergeant pointed out. Saying, “Don’t touch” won’t help much. Children need to know what guns do, and to leave right away and tell an adult if a playmate tries to show one off.

Educate your little ones—but don’t trust them. That goes double when other kids are around. Psychologists call it “the risky shift.” Kids in groups do things they wouldn’t do alone.

Readiness

I asked Sgt. Hicks how he responded to officers who felt they needed a loaded gun close by for protection. Never mind that weapons in the home hurt family members far more often than intruders.

His answer: “We’re not going to get invaded by a SEAL team.” He meant that only one weapon needs to be ready to fire. Unload and lock the rest, because bullets are easy to come by. Store ammunition separately, in a padlocked box.

Next, Sgt. Hicks advised, invest about $300 in a bedroom safe. Put one on your nightstand or behind your headboard that opens with your handprint, and you’ll be able to grab your gun in the dark. Alternatively, install a safe secured with a simple code between bedroom wall studs. Or, get “a big giant monster safe.” Whatever works for you.

I was told a vehicle safe is also essential. Never leave your kids waiting in the car with an unsecured “hidden” weapon.

Close Calls

Why is this issue close to my heart? I’ve seen too many of your loved ones teetering on the edge of choosing death. I’ve counseled parents and spouses to be as certain as possible that suicidal loved ones couldn’t get guns. I’ve lost sleep worrying about the few families that wouldn’t listen. When self-destructive impulses strike, easy access to a weapon makes a life-and-death difference.

Teen suicide was trending up before the pandemic started, and the current craziness will only accelerate its increase. Many teens and young adults are barely hanging on right now, deprived of jobs and job prospects, coaches and counselors, and friends and activities.

Six hundred children and young teens kill themselves in our nation every year. In 2017, the last year for which we have data, 5,016 males and 1,225 females between the ages of 15 and 24 took their own lives. As the Chronicle said recently, it’s one curve that isn’t flattening.

Resources and a Request

If you’re on board, please spread the word. Sgt. Hicks urges you to ask family members and friends if their weapons are stored safely. So does the Be SMART program (visit besmartforkids.org). It’s as simple as, “We keep all our guns locked up; do you?”

Be SMART offers resources and ideas about discussing gun safety with your kids and others. The Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program (eddieeagle.nra.org) has videos, songs, and coloring books that can be added to your home-schooling curriculum.

Pick up a $15 trigger lock for yourself or someone you care about. A limited number of free gun locks are available from patrol stations and Media Relations. A civilian employee working near you may need one.

Peace of Mind

A personal experience may help persuade you. My son is a physician, training in oncology in the Med Center. His hospital can’t offer him masks, because his patients don’t have a COVID diagnosis. Yet.

A few weeks ago, I bought him a dozen N-95s on eBay for about $25 apiece. Best damn $300 I ever spent.

Get a gun safe. I think you’ll feel the same way.