With nearly every school closed in Maine, countless children and teens are home for an indefinite amount of time. As parents, we’re prioritizing keeping our kids safe from the effects and spread of COVID-19, but we also must prioritize keeping them safe in our own homes.

An estimated 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in a household with guns stored loaded and unlocked. It’s up to adults to ensure guns are securely stored so that curious children and vulnerable teens cannot gain access to them. Maine has a higher than national average suicide rate and, in 2018, 52% were by gunfire.

There’s a lot that parents have to juggle while dealing with school closures and increased precautions around COVID-19. But we can’t wait for another completely preventable, unintentional shooting by a child or a teen dying by gun suicide to be a wake-up call. We need to take action now.

The Be SMART program, with which I am a volunteer, was created to educate caregivers about the risks of unsecured guns. We encourage parents and caretakers to “Be SMART” and take these simple steps to help prevent unintentional shootings: Secure all guns in homes and vehicles. Model responsible behavior. Ask about firearms in other homes that your child visits. Recognize the role of guns in suicide. Tell your peers to be smart.

We must all do our part to keep children safe during this time.

Barbara Arsenault, Rumford

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