MOHN: Stand against gun violence

COVID-19 continues to dominate most aspects of our lives. Many of us are exhausted by it. We are tired of thinking about how to balance life; kids, work, school and everything else. Yet, COVID-19 has and is continuing to uncover our challenges as a society ­— healthcare, social justice issues, racial equity, education and gun violence, to name a few. It may not be a surprise that this is also impacting our children in a profound and frightening way.

Gun violence is a public health epidemic. A recent report in every town for gun safety has revealed youth suicide using a firearm is at a record high, increasing by 56 percent over the past decade. Related, gun sales in the U.S. increased, and by August, reached the fifth highest month on record according to the FBI. In Michigan, gun sales jumped 210 percent and small firearms increased by 85 percent between March 2019 and March 2020. Between March and August, there were an additional 11.8 million guns purchased. There are many likely reasons for the increase, although one thing is clear — first-time gun owners and existing gun owners are buying guns at an alarmingly increased rate.

Youth suicide has also reached an all-time high, and it is related. It is the second leading cause of death for youth and teens. A quarter of all teens have contemplated suicide during the pandemic. Firearms are the most common method used for suicide in the adolescent population and availability of firearms is strongly associated with adolescent suicide risk. Roughly one-thrid of homes with children have guns, many left unlocked or loaded. The risk of dying by suicide is four to 10 times higher in homes with guns.

Life for youth, teens and young adults is more complicated and challenging with a pandemic that will be with us likely for the entire school year and into fall 2021. Our children face a higher risk of injury or death from firearms, higher than at any other time in our history. This begs the question about what to do? What can we do to safeguard children?

• Look for signs of depression and anxiety. Use resources and get help. The suicide prevention hotline can be accessed through suicidepreventionlifeline.org or by calling 1 (800) 273-TALK.

• The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that the most effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide or unintentional firearm- related injuries to children is the absence of guns from homes and communities. The AAP advocates that if you do own guns, lock your unloaded guns and make sure the ammunition is stored separately.

• Ask about guns and their storage in the homes to which you send your children.

• Elect officials who promote gun safety policies that limit easy and immediate access to fire-arms.

• The AAP supports regulating the manufacture, sale, purchase, ownership and use of firearms, a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons; and the strongest possible regulations of handguns for civilians.

• Push for healthcare providers and hospitals in our area towards best practices to ask about suicide and gun risks. Provide action and education to support youth and teens and families.

We all need to recognize that in the “new normal” of COVID-19; youth will be at risk of isolation, depression, anxiety and suicide. Doing all we can to support and protect our children is and should be one of our top priorities.

Rev. Sid Mohn is the director of Interfaith Action of Southwest Michigan.

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