My grandmother's second husband was an avid hunter and accomplished taxidermist. During visits to their house, if I accidentally opened their upright freezer -- instead of the refrigerator -- I would get an eyeful of animal cadavers. There's nothing quite like reaching for a ginger ale and coming face to face with an anguished badger or bobcat.
On one visit I spied a newly completed diorama of an albino squirrel nibbling a nut. The proud hunter told us the rare squirrel appeared at his bird feeder, and he shot it, in his words, "to prevent him from being picked on by other squirrels." His questionable compassion aside, it is important to note that he lived in the suburbs. Modest, tidy brick houses abutted his on each side. Although he had extensive firearms experience, discharging his gun so close to others showed a shocking lack of good judgment. But one thing he did right; he always locked up his guns. We grandkids never saw them nor did we ever have access to them. Albino squirrels and injured beavers? Yup. Firearms? Not ever.
But many American children die every year because guns are not properly secured in homes. According to Children's Defense Fund statistics, homes with guns are three times more likely to be a site of homicide, 3 times more likely to have a resident who commits suicide and 4 times more likely to be the scene of an accidental death due to firearms.
More than 40 percent of U.S. gun-owning households with children do not adequately secure their guns. It is not difficult for children in these households to accidentally or intentionally use guns on themselves or others. Vermont state law does not require gun owners to secure their guns or to use trigger locks, despite the clear correlation between unsecure guns and accidental shootings.
Dr. Angela Sauaia -- associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health -- asserts that gun injuries and deaths involving children are commonplace. She was startled to discover that each year 14 children in the Denver area alone are treated for gunshot wounds at Denver's two primary hospitals. Sauaia explains why her current research on children and firearms is so important: "With Newtown and the Aurora tragedy happening, we decided it was important for people to know that kids are being injured by guns on a routine basis."
In a typical year, 51 American children and teens are killed by guns every week. This translates into five classrooms full of children being killed every two weeks. There was national, anguished mourning for the children of Newtown, but we barely register the incessant barrage of gunfire directed at our children.
After the unfathomable shooting of all those beloved children at Sandy Hook elementary school, Brattleboro educator and writer Ann Braden felt duty-bound to do something about gun violence. At All Souls Church in West Brattleboro last February, she spoke of her feelings of complete powerlessness in the face of the epidemic of gun violence: "When you are just one mother, you have the determination to protect your child -- but you also have piles of laundry, not much food in the fridge, and three different sets of wooden blocks strewn across your living room floor." It can feel like there is no use even trying.
"But," she reflected, "I was not just one mother anymore -- I had been engulfed by the power of motherhood: the ability to love selflessly, multiplied by many ... A collective motherhood working to shift the tectonic plates of society ever closer to where they should be." Braden read everything she could about guns and was shocked to discover that Vermont has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation and the highest rate of gun deaths in New England -- twice that of Massachusetts.
Braden started GunSenseVT to join gun owners and non-gun owners in keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Says Braden, "We are focused on keeping guns out of the hands of those who can't be responsible: unsupervised children, violent felons, domestic abusers, and people who have been adjudicated by a court of law to be a danger to themselves and others." Vermont's insufficient gun laws, asserts Braden, make it far too easy for such people to get guns.
Braden seeks to build a coalition that will attract gun owners like Gaspar Perricone, a hunting enthusiast who published an op-ed in April on Politco.com after meeting at the White House with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Like Braden, he contends, "I hope we can all agree that felons, domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill should not have access to guns." The common thread of common sense, asserts Perricone "is that we must find a way to keep our children safe from gun violence."
GunSenseVT now has 1,000 members in 160 Vermont towns and has gathered over 5,000 signatures on a petition that will be delivered to the governor in December.
Although Braden concedes that we live in an increasingly polarized political climate, she trusts "we have the opportunity in Vermont to focus on the significant common ground that exists ... We can't just complain that our elected officials aren't doing their jobs. In a democracy, it's our job to raise our voices and make sure lawmakers know where their constituents stand." To learn more about the important work of Gun Sense VT, go to www.GunSenseVT.org or email Braden directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is vitally important work. After all, although it might raise the ire of local PETA activists, this isn't about defending albino squirrels. It's about protecting our irreplaceable squirrely children.