SEATTLE — Friday is National Gun Violence Awareness Day and the University of Washington and Public Health — Seattle & King County are highlighting the importance of gun lock boxes.
Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the country, according to a Pew Research Center study released in April. In Washington state, more than 800 people die by guns every year, according to the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
“About a third to forty percent of households in the state of Washington have firearms in the home,” said UW Medicine pediatrician and firearm researcher Dr. Fred Rivara. “Unless it's stored safely, that firearm is going to pose a greater risk to people in the household than not having a firearm.”
According to the study released in April, the rise in gun deaths among children and teens correlates with the rise in gun deaths among American overall. The Pew Research Center said homicide was the largest single category of gun death among children and teens in 2021 at 60%, followed by suicide at 32% and accidents at 5%. In contrast, suicide accounted for 55% of gun deaths among adults in 2021.
“(A firearm is) going to pose a greater risk of someone in the family using it to commit suicide than the idea that you might shoot an intruder. So, it's really key to make sure that the firearm is safely stored,” said Rivara.
This year, Public Health’s Regional Gun Violence Program’s Regional Peacekeepers Collective, in partnership with community-based organizations, hosted free community lockbox giveaway events throughout the county Friday.
You find more information on Public Health’s efforts to promote safe gun storage on the Lock It Up program webpage.
National Gun Violence Awareness Day takes place on the first Friday in June and kicks off Wear Orange Weekend, which has become the defining color of the gun violence prevention movement. The Day is in honor of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old who marched in former President Barack Obama's second inauguration and died by gun violence in Chicago soon after, and all other lives lost to gun violence. People wear orange because it is what hunters wear to avoid being shot.
At one of the giveaway events in Seattle's Central District, community members also celebrated the ribbon-cutting for a brick-and-mortar space for nonprofit Community Passageways.
"This feels amazing, there's all the effort we put into making it to this point today, all of the narratives, all of the trauma, all of the stories, all of the hard work," Chief Operating Officer Katoya Palmer said. "Today, just seeing the community here, gathered, smiling, although a melancholy conversation of gun violence and its impacts in our community, to know and understand this space is gonna make a different and the gathering today is to celebrate that just ignites my heart."
Community Passageways invests in youth to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline. Palmer says that is an important piece of the puzzle, but she hopes today will also draw awareness to ending all causes of gun violence.
"We want to think about our domestic violence victims as well as our individuals impacted by suicide and their families, those who have lost individuals to suicide," Palmer said. "I wouldn't want a message to go that the only community that needs help is the Black community who may or may not be involved in the street violence, there is a whole community who needs help right now."
Public Health of Seattle and King County has been investing in a number of efforts to prevent gun violence.
"Specifically funding community violence intervention work, which are best practices that our nation is recognizing as critical to addressing gun violence," PHSKC Director of Regional Gun Violence efforts Eleuthera Lisch said. "It's primarily intervention work that's happening with critical incident response, and folks are deploying to scenes to try to calm tensions and connect folks who are directly impacted by gun violence to services."
Lisch says organizations the county works with tend to have the same prescriptions for addressing the root causes of gun violence.
"Access to opportunity is pretty much the biggest sort of element and remediator, because a lot of folks that are impacted by gun violence face stigma that keeps them from being involved in basic opportunities," Lisch said. "I think jobs, as you mentioned housing, and stability economically is a big concern to most folks, unfortunately when folks are deprived of access to resources and opportunity, that drives illegal economy and increases incidents of gun violence."