Living Columns & Blogs

More children die each year from gun violence than from cancer. How to talk about gun safety

Preventing harm to our kids motivates our actions and policies. If there are ways to save lives or decrease harms, we want to use them.

Anti-bullying programs are everywhere. We encourage our children to be kind, to speak up for themselves, and to speak up for others who are being hurt. The prospect of speaking up, however, is terrifying for kids, no matter what age. So much so, that our Pennsylvania schools are implementing an anonymous reporting app and phone number so that kids can report their concerns without giving their name. The problems inherent in this system are obvious, but this is the best solution we have at this point to try to prevent bad things from happening.

Firearm-related deaths are the second leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 17 in the US. Every day, about 19 children in the country die from, or are treated for, a gunshot wound. We hear these reports every single day. More children die each year from gun violence than from cancer.

Keeping a gun in the home increases the risk of injury and death.

When your child goes to another child’s house, you will likely want to know about food allergies, pets, a backyard pool or a trampoline.

Now it’s time for us to get uncomfortable. Ask about guns in the home of your child’s friend. For parents, this question is very scary. There is a real fear, that asking about guns is received as a judgment. There is concern that this will close the door to that friendship — for our child and ourselves — or put a rift in the relationship.

Our schools now practice lockdown drills, or shelter in place in an effort to prepare for the terrifying scenario of a school shooter. Hiding in a locked closet is traumatic and anxiety triggering in a drill situation, let alone an actual shooting. We must do all we can to lessen these significant harms to our kids.

The topic of guns is very much in our news. By not asking about our child’s potential exposure to guns, we are silently accepting that the current situation of exceedingly high gun deaths, compared to any other country, is OK.

If we can submit our children to lock down drills at school, we can submit ourselves to the discomfort of asking another adult if there are guns in their home. The Second Amendment allows for gun ownership. Guns should be locked up, with the ammunition locked in a separate location.

The more times we ask this, the less scared our kids will be. As we reinforce the message that guns should be accessed by those who are responsible and qualified, the risk of shootings of any kind can be reduced. For more information about the campaign to reduce child gun deaths, visit

To get more involved in common sense gun legislation work in Centre Region, please email

Maggie Ellis, PA-C, is a pediatric provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.