Be SMART Reduces Unintentional Shootings and Suicides

The past year has brought extreme changes and challenges to our children, families, schools and communities. It has been stressful, difficult and even scary.

While we have grappled with the effects of COVID-19, we have also seen the reports about 2020 being a deadly year for gun violence and 2021 continuing in the same pattern. These stories, coupled with the rise in gun sales (many to first time gun owners), are troubling even before you consider the recent research showing that unintentional shootings by children have also increased during the pandemic.

In my own state, we have seen a devastating uptick in gun suicides by young people. In fact, in January 2021 the Clark County School District—the largest in Nevada and the fifth largest in the U.S.—announced it would begin the process of reopening schools due in part to a surge in youth suicides in the area.

As a volunteer leader with Moms Demand Action in Nevada and a member of the Board of Directors for National PTA, I am deeply concerned about gun suicides and unintentional shootings. But I also worry about what might happen when all children return to school full-time. We know that unsecured firearms also fuel gun violence outside the home. In incidents of gun violence on school grounds, up to 80% of shooters under the age of 18 obtained their guns from their own home, a relative’s home, or a friend’s home.

According to the #NotAnAccident Index, which has tracked unintentional shootings by children since 2015, nearly 350 children in the U.S. under the age of 18 gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else each year—equaling almost one unintentional shooting per day. Another 700 children die by gun suicide each year, most often using guns belonging to a family member.

There is a simple way to reduce these shootings. Research shows that keeping firearms locked, unloaded and separated from ammunition can save lives—especially the lives of those taken by unintentional shootings and gun suicides. In fact, a 2019 study estimated that if half of all households with children switched from leaving their guns unlocked to keeping them locked and securely stored, one-third of youth gun suicides and unintentional deaths could be prevented—saving an estimated 251 lives in a single year.

So how do we begin? Following the Be SMART program is a good first step. Developed by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, the Be SMART program helps parents and other adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries. National PTA was on board from the start, and continues to support the program’s success.

The program encourages parents and adults to:

  • Secure all guns in their home and vehicles
  • Model responsible behavior around guns
  • Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
  • Recognize the role of guns in suicide
  • Tell their peers to be SMART

In the last five years, Be SMART has served as a model for parents, schools and PTAs across the country to educate parents and adults on how to keep their children and families safe from gun violence.

As gun violence continues to be one of the leading causes of death for children and teens, we must do everything we can to keep our families, communities, schools and children safe from this public health crisis. And we must work together. Join the fight by getting involved with Moms Demand Action and PTA.


Alison Turner is a National PTA Board Member, Nevada PTA Vice-President for Advocacy, and a volunteer leader with Moms Demand Action in Nevada.

Advocacy Spotlight: Gun Violence Prevention

Gun violence is such an overwhelming issue in our nation, it can be paralyzing to think about. How can you as one parent, or even as one PTA unit, make a difference? Thankfully, there are PTAs who have been paving the way, and we had the chance to talk with three representatives from Mercer Island PTA, Lori Cohen-Sanford, Erin Gurney, and Gwen Loosmore.

Mercer Island PTA has been advocating for gun violence prevention since 2018. They shared with us their lessons learned and advice for like-minded groups.

What do families need to know about gun violence and gun violence prevention?

Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for youth in our country. Over half of those gun deaths are suicides. Everyone has a role in gun violence prevention. If families do own guns, they need to make sure they are safely stored. Families need to feel comfortable asking if there are guns in the home, when their children go for a playdate– just like they would share about any allergies or ask about pets or swimming pool safety.

What strategies have you found most effective when advocating for gun violence prevention?

It’s crucial to know your platform. Familiarize yourself with National PTA’s position statement. Mercer Island PTA has made a habit of laminating them and bringing them everywhere!

Don’t forget that PTA is an advocacy association. We speak on behalf of all children ESPECIALLY on behalf of children’s safety. We have the authority as PTA members to advocate for these positions. It’s helpful to have or establish a state platform, as well. We have found that parents want to act, so it’s helpful to give them something to do – specific bills to support, newsletters to read, encouragement to ask about guns in the home at playdates, etc. We really say that we are doing the advocacy work one conversation at a time. It’s also important to remember that every parent wants the violence to stop. There is a lot of common ground and we need to normalize the conversation around firearms in our society.

What advice do you have for PTAs who want to make gun violence prevention a higher priority in their school, district or state?

Talking about gun violence can make a lot of people nervous because it’s become a political issue in our country and we don’t want our schools to become split by political divides. The challenge here is to remind people that PTA is an advocacy organization and we’re advocating for student safety. What we are trying to do is change the culture in how we talk about gun violence prevention. Even gun owners are supportive of a lot of these measures.

Find like-minded parents and get organized. Consider going to non-PTA gun violence prevention organizations, like the Brady Campaign or Moms Demand, to find other local parents who share your passion.

Overcommunicate. If your leadership is concerned keep them informed of everything you’re doing, before you do it, share why, and how it falls into National PTA’s mission. National PTA already has a position statement on gun violence, and a website on family resources for school safety and questions you can start with that you KNOW falls within what PTA has authorized – start there!

Every community, every PTA, every individual has a specific set of experiences and what works for Mercer Island PTA might not everywhere. However, what is absolutely universal is people need to feel empowered and they need to know that they have the power to create change if they bring themselves together around this issue.

Curious how you can talk to your kids about these issues? Tune in to our podcast, Notes from the Backpack, to hear Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez share tips on talking to your children about gun violence in developmentally appropriate ways!