Now that we’ve officially entered the “Eat, Drink, & Be Merry” time of year, when friends and families gather together to celebrate the holidays, I have one additional directive to add: please, Lock Up Your Guns.
This sobering reminder wasn’t always something that came to mind during this joyful season. For a long time, I was blissfully ignorant to the prevalence of unintentional shootings–particularly suicides–involving unsecured firearms accessed by children in their own home, or the home of a close friend or relative. According to the Giffords Law Center, a 2018 study found that 4.6 million minors in the US live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, and another revealed that more than 75% of the guns used in youth suicide attempts were obtained in that manner.
Two years ago today, these statistics hit very close to home. On November 27, 2016, 17-year-old Jack Farrell was found in a county park in my town with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He died two days later. According to his grieving mother, Jennifer Gonzales, the gun he used was an unsecured firearm belonging to his father, who had previously been ordered by a judge to lock up his guns. Jennifer’s ex-husband failed to comply with the judge’s order, but there was nothing she could do about it. Although New Jersey is one of 28 states that assess criminal penalties when a child gains access to an unsecured gun, our state law only applies to children age 15 or younger, and there is currently no provision that allows for law enforcement to follow-up in such cases, to ensure that someone has complied with an order to secure their guns. Even the State of Texas, known for having some of the most lax gun laws in the country, has a stronger Child Access Prevention (CAP) law than we do.
Now, one NJ Senator is looking to change that, thanks to Jennifer’s tireless advocacy in the wake of her devastating loss. Last month, Senator Joseph Lagana [District 38] filed S3079, a bill which prohibits leaving a loaded firearm within easy access of a minor under the age of 18, and also requires law enforcement officers who observe unsecured firearms to conduct a follow-up visit. It’s a common-sense measure that doesn’t take anyone’s guns away; it simply encourages smart, responsible gun ownership, which is something that all New Jerseyans should support, regardless of their stance on the Second Amendment.
Unsecured guns aren’t just a danger to individuals who are suicidal; they also play a big role in deadly school shootings. In a study of school shootings that occurred over a 26-year period, the US Secret Service and the Department of Education found that 65% of them involved unsecured guns that the shooter obtained at their home, or the home of a relative.
I strongly support Senator Lagana’s bill, because Child Access Prevention is an issue that needs to be addressed year-round, not just during the holiday season. Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates do not increase during the holiday season. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, the suicide rate peaks in the spring and fall, and is actually lowest in the month of December. However, the prevalence of large gatherings makes this a good time of year to remind yourself, and your loved ones, about the importance of gun safety.
So amidst all the revelry this holiday season, I ask that you stop and remember all of those who have been touched by gun violence, especially the families of the shooting victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This will be a difficult time for them, and for Jack’s mother Jennifer, as they cope with the reality of gathering with the people they love, knowing that someone is forever missing from the table. Supporting common-sense CAP laws won’t bring their precious children back, but it will help save the lives of other children, by encouraging responsible gun ownership and accountability.
And please, if you’re a gun owner, be a responsible one, and secure your firearms.
— Lisa Yakomin, Executive Director
Keep NJ Safe