Guns & PE: Firearm safety comes to high school health class

Kristen Martin, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says securing all firearms, unloaded and away from ammunition, is the most important safety tip. Photo by Eze Amos Kristen Martin, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says securing all firearms, unloaded and away from ammunition, is the most important safety tip. Photo by Eze Amos

Charlottesville’s physical education teachers are already tasked with teaching a range of heavy topics in health class, from the dangers of opioid addiction to how to avoid unhealthy relationships. Now, gun safety will be added to the list.

Fifteen of the city school division’s PE teachers traded a day in the gym last week for a day in the classroom, where they joined volunteers from the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The group shared a training it developed called “Be SMART,” and asked the educators to take the information back to their school communities. Meanwhile, the school division will be working on adapting the curriculum for 10th graders at CHS, who will be the first in the area to learn it in a classroom.

“In America, we do have an issue with gun violence,” says Kristen Martin, a Moms Demand Action volunteer. She presented a range of security methods parents can use, including free gun locks handed out by many police departments upon request, and expensive safes that a gun owner can open only with his handprint.

Securing all firearms, unloaded and away from ammunition, is “the single most important thing we can do,” to protect against accidents, suicides, and kids toting their parents’ guns to school to commit mass shootings, she adds.

Moms Demand Action is now working with Jessica Brantley, the city school division’s health and physical education instructional coordinator, who will implement the gun safety course at CHS.

“They’re almost adults, so soon they’ll possibly be able to own a firearm and be responsible for its use,” says Brantley. “They will then have to understand the risk of having it in a home where there are other people.”

And it’s important for students to be trained on proper gun use, she adds. “If they are going to use them, it’s just like driving a car—you don’t just get in and drive.”

The gym teacher of 16 years says she thinks students will be shocked by some of the statistics presented by Moms Demand Action.

Every year, nearly 300 children under age 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else—often fatally. American kids are 11 times more likely to die from gun violence than those in other developed countries. And 1.7 million children in the U.S. live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked.

Priya Mahadevan, the leader of Charlottesville’s Moms Demand Action chapter, says they initiated the training because educators are crucial to the conversation of gun violence and school safety.

“We are proud of this inroad we’ve made and we hope that this will be the first of many in our school districts,” she says.

Get SMART

While the firearm safety protocol of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is mostly geared toward parents, Charlottesville City Schools will adapt it to cater to 10th graders. Here are some tips for parents:

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

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