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Two Dads Ask Gun Owners to Join Them in a Request for Secure Gun Storage

Mark Barden and Jimi Westbrook

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Our guest bloggers are Mark Barden, Co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund, and the father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, 2012, and Jimi Westbrook, a member of Little Big Town, the father of Elijah, and a responsible gun owner.

As dads, Father’s Day with our children is a special time. But for me, Mark Barden, it’s a bittersweet day forever marred by a mass shooting. When my sweet little son, Daniel, was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, my life was irrevocably changed. No holiday since has been the same, as the gaping hole in my heart has never healed. But I still look forward to Father’s Day because it’s a time to celebrate with my surviving children, James and Natalie. While I think about and miss Daniel every single day, I also rejoice in James and Natalie — and I look forward to every single day with them.

For me, Jimi Westbrook, Father’s Day is pure joy, as I celebrate with my son, Elijah. I can’t even begin to imagine Mark’s pain — or the pain of all the parents whose children have been ripped from their arms by gun violence. When I stop to think about it, the immensity of their loss is overwhelming. In that sense, my experience couldn’t be more different than Mark’s.

Fathers’ Common Bond to Love and Protect

Yet, as fathers, we share the common bond of undying love for our kids. We’d both do anything to protect them, to keep them safe. And we know we’re not alone in that feeling, in that commitment; every father, every parent, wants to keep their children safe. We all want to see our kids grow up happy and healthy.

Despite that most fundamental truth, too many parents put their own kids — and potentially the children of others — at risk of gun violence each and every day. How? By keeping their guns in a place that their kids can access — insteading of putting them under lock-and-key, in a location that only the gun owner knows and has access to, and with the ammunition stored in a separate location.

Secure Gun Storage Saves Lives

The fact is that failing to store firearms securely is deadly dangerous. According to research from the National Institute of Justice, more than 80% of mass shooters at K-12 schools stole their guns from family members. Secure storage is also critical to preventing suicide by firearm among young people. A November 2022 study examining firearm suicide data in five states — as captured in the National Violent Death Reporting System — found that 79% of children who died as a result of suicide by firearm, used a family member’s gun.

An ATF report on US gun crime found that, in the last five years, more than one million firearms were reported stolen. The actual number is likely much higher, considering not all thefts are reported. A huge way for legally purchased guns to get in the hands of criminals is through theft, which can happen when secure storage is not utilized.

As a responsible gun owner, I (Jimi) fully support the right to have firearms. But the “right to bear arms” comes with the responsibility to secure our guns safely. Lawmakers — both state and federal — should enact laws that support families that choose to own guns and help them store their guns securely. And those laws should include benefits for the owners, not just penalties for non-compliance. For instance, we could increase secure storage by providing free storage and locking devices. Legislators should also allocate funding for a national secure storage education campaign. That’s a message that both of us would be happy to help share.

How You Can Take Action

Every child and every human life is filled with promise. This Father’s Day, we urge everyone to join us in protecting children by storing your firearms securely and demanding that elected officials pass gun storage legislation now. Let’s take action before the hearts of more parents and families are broken because of gun violence. That’s the very least we can do to honor the victims of gun violence.

Send your love and support to the dads who’ve had a child taken by gun violence.