July 18, 2022 Board letter to District Families About Safe Firearm Storage
Subject: Student Initiative for Family Safety
Dear SCASD Community,
I’m reaching out to bring you some important safety information as we all enjoy summer break with our families. Over the past year, a group of SCASD high school students has worked to build a public awareness campaign regarding the importance of safely storing firearms, particularly in homes where children or teens are present.
Below is a story about their efforts, their success involving various government officials and community members, and the important information they seek to share with the community. Please read the letter we have attached from these students to the community as well. We are so impressed with their dedication, persistence, and care for our community.
Recently, the Centre County Commissioners unanimously approved a Proclamation on Safe and Secure Firearm Storage, with the goal of sharing this information throughout our community. “As much as we cherish our right to possess guns, we also have the responsibility to keep everybody safe and one of the simplest ways is to make sure they [firearms] are secure,” Commissioner Steve Dershem said.
Additionally, local law enforcement police chiefs and Centre County Sheriff Bryan Sampsel have shared with our school leaders how families can help keep kids safe from firearm injury or death by taking simple steps to store firearms safely.
As local school leaders, we are so grateful for the advocacy of SCASD students to raise awareness about the importance of safe firearm storage, including their work to bring together community leaders, law enforcement, and health care providers throughout the region to share what they know about this issue.
State College Area School District
Dear SCASD Families,
Providing our students and staff in the State College Area School District with a safe educational environment remains one of our top priorities. We are all aware of incidents of gun violence across the nation. And with recent federal legislation to protect Military Veterans from gun violence with safe gun storage, this is a valuable time to bring to light ways to prevent gun violence in our schools and in our community. A recent survey found that 57 percent of teens are concerned that there will be a shooting in their school. We wanted to remind you of a few ways to keep your family and community safe.
Studies of all types of school-based gun violence across decades all point to the same significant point of intervention -- addressing students’ unauthorized access to guns in the home. For example, a recent Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center study of targeted school violence incidents from 2008 to 2017, found that 76 percent of the firearms were obtained from the home of a parent or close relative.
Unsecured guns in the home pose a risk to students beyond gun violence in schools. Every year, nearly 350 children under the age of 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. That’s roughly one unintentional shooting per day. Almost 600 children die by gun suicide each year. In the overwhelming majority of these incidents, the gun used was one that belonged to someone in their home.
One study found that 87 percent of kids know where their parents' guns are kept and 60 percent have handled them. Research shows that secure firearm storage practices are associated with up to an 85 percent reduction in the risk of self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injuries among children and teens.
We’re asking you to follow three simple guidelines to prevent gun violence in our communities:
Unload- Gun owners should remove ammunition from the firearm, including any chambered rounds.
Lock- Unloaded firearms should be secured with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lockbox. Locking devices, safes, and lockboxes are equipped with keys, combinations, or biometric technology that limits access. The State College, Ferguson Township, and Patton Township Police Departments are able to provide gun locks free of charge upon request. BeSMART for Kids offers a guide to buying Secure Gun Storage Devices.
Separate - Ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm in a secure location.
Another important aspect of gun safety is modeling responsible behavior around guns. We are able to provide resources on how to model responsible behavior around guns, how to start conversations about guns with children, and how to ask about the presence of guns in the homes of others.
Storing firearms securely protects any child in the home as well as students throughout the school district and community. You can learn more and download helpful resources; including a secure storage fact sheet, talking to your children about guns, and facts and resources on child firearm suicide, at BeSMARTforKids.org/resources.
Delta Program Students Demand Action
SCASD Students Advocate for Safe Gun Storage
One afternoon in May, a notable collection of individuals gathered at State High.
Local police chiefs and school district superintendents joined two Centre County Commissioners, the Centre County coroner, State College Area School District administrators, and the school board leadership — all there because of one student committee’s efforts to protect children from gun violence.
Started by Delta Program high school students, the State College Area School District chapter of the national Students Demand Action organization discussed its initiative to share safe firearm storage practices with district families via a letter and an informational graphic. Their presentation met with approval from the audience members, who offered encouragement and suggestions. Everyone in attendance agreed on the importance of ensuring all families in Centre County understand how to store firearms safely, and the group committed to working together to communicate safe storage practices.
Weeks later, the county commissioners formally signed on to the cause by issuing a proclamation urging safe firearm storage in homes.
“I was very proud of the work we were able to do, and all the people in the community who worked to make this a reality,” said junior Lilly Frank, the chapter’s co-president with Grace Myersmith.
Troubling statistics spurred them and chapter members Lorelai Radzanowski and Maya Dombroskie to act. Each year, 350 children under 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else each year, and almost 700 children annually die by gun suicide. On the other hand, safe firearm storage practices have been shown to reduce the risk of self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injuries by up to 85 percent.
“You see, at the state and national level, there’s a huge risk of not only unintentional shootings, but also teen suicides,” Frank said. “Having secure firearm storage is really important for child safety at home.”
Other facts that make this such a critical issue for our community:
Firearms are a leading cause of death for children in the US under the age of 18.
Accidental child shootings and suicides by firearm are a significant risk for children and teens, and such tragic events are most likely to occur when children are home, such as summer or school holidays.
Children are usually the victims of unintentional shootings by children — in 91% of unintentional shootings by children, another child is the victim.
Sadly, SCASD’s Students Demand Action chapter notes, our community has experienced the realities of these statistics. Chapter members endorse the gun safety recommendations from the national Be Smart for Kids organization:
Unload: Remove all ammunition from the firearm, including removing any chambered rounds.
Lock: Secure guns with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lockbox.
Separate: Store ammunition in a secure location separate from the firearm.
Free gun locks and safety kits are available at local law enforcement offices (including State College, Patton Township, and Ferguson Township police departments), VFWs, American Legions, senior centers, gun stores, and the county sheriff’s office.
“If anyone needs one, stop by,” Centre County Sheriff Bryan Sampsel said.
Frank's interest in firearm safety began in eighth grade and was inspired by the occurrence of school shootings. In particular, the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida prompted her to look into starting a Students Demand Action chapter. But once she learned only high school students could do so, she had to wait. The pandemic delayed her further in ninth grade, but by March of 2021, the chapter finally began with English teacher Amy Allison as its advisor.
After discussing approaches toward sharing safe firearm storage practices as a community service, the students decided a letter to district families would be the best way to reach parents and guardians. Last year, they made presentations at school and to the SCASD Board of Directors, steadily gaining traction and supportive allies within the community.
Frank hopes that, eventually, families will receive the chapter’s safe storage letter before the school year starts as a reminder.
“It’s important that we build a legacy with this resolution that will go beyond our high school experience, that we make sure it’s sent out every year and isn’t pushed to the back burner,” she said. “This can do a lot of good in the community and really decrease the rate of firearm injuries and deaths.”
By Chris Rosenblum