At a press conference in Pioneer Square this morning, Washington Ceasefire unveiled ASK-Washington, a public safety education campaign aimed at encouraging parents to ask neighbors about guns in the home before allowing their children to come over and play. The campaign will kick off in March with "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of outreach, including full page ads in ParentMap magazine and 12-by-4-foot ads on the sides of Metro buses.
"We're starting a conversation," said Washington Ceasefire president Ralph Fascitelli. "We're starting a cultural shift, just like they did with smoking."
And that, as I have repeatedly argued is by far the single most important thing we can do to reduce our nation's epidemic of gun deaths: change the culture. And Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, who spoke in support of the "Just Ask" campaign, totally agrees:
"We took that approach with smoking: Get the facts. We took that approach with seat belts: Get the facts. We took that approach with drunk driving: Get the facts," said Burgess, who argued that with the facts about gun ownership in front of them, Americans will make much better decisions.
And those facts are startling. According to Fascitelli, having a gun in the home makes you 22 times more likely to kill a family member or friend, and five times more likely to commit suicide. On average, according to a new study published in Pediatrics, 20 children a day are hospitalized in the US due to gunshot wounds, and 75 percent of all child shootings are accidental. That's a lot of preventable tragedy.
The immediate goal of the "Just Ask" campaign is to educate the public that it is simply responsible parenting to ask whether there is a gun in the home before allowing your children over to play. If the answer is "yes"—and 40 percent of American homes have guns—parents are encouraged to follow up and ask if the guns are stored locked and unloaded. If that answer is "no," then invite the kids over to play at your house.
But the long term goal is to completely normalize this conversation. There should be no awkwardness about asking other parents this question. "The absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents," concludes the Pediatrics study. And when this question becomes normal, that's when the true facts about gun ownership will finally start to sink in.