Educating Communities About Gun Safety
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
A single handgun incident can affect the lives of so many in the community. With this fact in mind, one organization in Florida is pulling together members of the community to facilitate discussions on gun safety issues. Project CARGO (Communities Addressing Responsible Gun Ownership) provides public education on ways parents and their children can work together to prevent handgun injuries and deaths from touching their lives.
"[The project] is all about community participation and bringing the community together," says Dan DeCoursey, President and Director of Project CARGO. "No one can do this alone - this is a community problem and takes a community effort."
In order to get the message to parents and students, the program relies on three key partners: health care, law enforcement and the school district. By working together, they can all deliver an effective message during one-hour seminars for members of the community in which they share their personal experiences with gun injuries and fatalities.
DeCoursey explains that these three entities are vital members of the partnership because they are the most affected by handgun incidents. With the fifth largest school district in the nation, Broward County incorporates over 250,000 students and 25,000 employees, providing the program with a large audience of both gun owners and non gun-owners.
Notifications for the meetings go home with students and are prominently posted in community calendars and on local television and radio. The notices are created by students in a school printing program and outline the seminar's goals as well as invite the whole family.
"We want to open up the lines of communication between kids and parents," says DeCoursey, a police officer for over 20 years. "A lot of parents are busy with their jobs, making ends meet and don't realize what is going on at home. We open up those lines so they can talk to their kid. We only have them for an hour, so it is up to them to take it to the next level."
Learning From First-hand Witnesses
Following a video presentation that shows the tragedy of children finding a handgun, a trauma surgeon addresses the audience on his/her experiences in treating children with gunshot wounds and the damage that can occur. Using statistics on handgun injuries and deaths accompanied with graphic photos of gunshot wounds, the doctors present what they have seen countless times.
The next part of the seminar provides information on identifying early warning signs of aggressive and threatening behavior in schools. Parents and students are both instructed on the proper avenues to report such behavior.
Next, an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) talks to those in attendance about the basic functions of a firearm and responsible ownership. In addition to discussing the different kinds of gunlocks available on the market, each person in attendance is provided a gunlock and instruction by the agent on installation.
"We tell people to take a gunlock even if they don't own a gun," says DeCoursey. "We want that one in the house your kid plays in to be secure. We know that this type of gunlock may not be for them, but we are throwing out options for them to feel more comfortable, raise their awareness and give them the methods and equipment to use."
The seminar concludes with the emotional testimony of a parent who shares herown story in which her 12-year-old daughter found a handgun in the home and accidentally shot and killed her eight-year-old sister. The gun had been in the house for about 10 years, yet the parents had forgotten it was there. More shocking, the parent learned that the shooting was not the first time that the kids had played with the gun, having loaded and unloaded it many times before.
Going Home with More Than a Gunlock
The program is geared toward both gun owners and those who do not own guns, providing the message of gun safety for both audiences. Often, says DeCoursey, those who don't own a gun can't understand why they need this type of information.
"We ask them 'where does your child play - at another kid's house, at the house next door' and if their kids ask if there is a gun in the house," he says. "It's amazing when we start a session and we ask parents if their kids ask if the house they are in has a gun in it. If there are 100 people, you might see two or three hands. Even if they make their own environment safe, their child is exposed to other environments."
According to DeCoursey, a lot of parents who attend the seminars feel responsible in the way they handle their firearm. However, in an evaluation at the end of the program, they are asked "Will you change your behavior based on what you learned today," - a question 84% answer yes to.
Project CARGO has expanded to Miami-Dade County in Florida as well as to Tucson, Arizona. Easily replicated in any area, DeCoursey says that the key elements are the same and that essential parts are financing and the partnership of community entities like in Broward County. No matter what agencies are involved, however, getting communication between parents and kids is a must.
"We need to be aware and listen to what kids are doing and saying [about guns]," he says. "We need them to be our eyes and ears because we can't do this alone. "
For more information on Project CARGO, visit their website at www.projectcargo.org
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339