Drive focuses on kids, gun violence
A public awareness program coming to Allegheny County pushes parents to hold each other accountable for gun safety.
The Asking Saves Kids, or ASK, campaign will work with nearly 30 organizations to encourage parents to ask one another whether their children are playing in homes with guns. The campaign, which includes advertisements and posters, will begin the week of Sept. 16, said Dan Gross, president of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence in New York.
“This is not a polarizing political issue,” Gross said. “This is an aspect where we can all be united and keep our kids safe.”
The National Rifle Association did not return a message seeking comment. Kim Stolfer, chairman of the Pennsylvania gun rights group Firearms Owners Against Crime, said he was dubious of the campaign's claim that it is not political.
“I have learned over 30 years not to trust these types of organizations,” Stolfer said. “They have no experience, knowledge or altruistic purposes.”
The center focuses on gun violence from a public health perspective, Gross said. The campaign has been in existence nationwide for about 10 years, and he said it has helped change attitudes about guns in Rockford, Ill.
“A lot of this is about reframing conversations about gun violence every day in our communities,” Gross said. “You're not a bad person if you want to protect your family and you buy a gun to do it. But we have to have a conversation about the risks.”
The campaign will provide posters for pediatricians' offices and bus shelters with messages like “Awkward conversations come with being a parent, but one could save your child's life.” The campaign is working with Pittsburgh police, Pittsburgh Public Schools, the county Department of Human Services and others.
Dennis Murphy, 47, of Brookline said he already talks about guns with the families of friends of his four children.
“My kids aren't allowed in a house until I know there's no weapons,” Murphy said. “That's the first thing I ask. It's very important.”
The Pittsburgh Foundation is giving $50,000 and the Falk Foundation is giving $150,000 over two years to jump-start the program in Allegheny County. Jane Downing, senior program officer with the Pittsburgh Foundation, said local accidental shootings involving children helped spur the foundation's interest.
Zy'Miere Sewell, 3, of Homewood shot and killed himself with a gun that Pittsburgh police said a teen left in the bedroom with the boy on Aug. 9, 2011. In 2010, Gavin Thompson, the 5-year-old son of a Liberty police officer, fatally shot himself with his father's service pistol.
“We've been concerned about gun violence for a long time,” Downing said. “We realized we ought to look at this from a public safety prevention standpoint.”
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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