Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: Be SMART

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

This past Halloween the Fargo Moorhead Local Group of Be SMART took to the Red River Zoo’s ‘Boo at the Zoo’ event in an unusual Trick-or-Treat initiative—handing out gun locks.

“To kids, we handed out Smarties candy rolls with a postcard that explains what Be SMART is, and those kids usually had adults with them. So, we also handed out brochures and gun locks to people who were interested,” said Martha Wheeler, the Lead of the all-volunteer Fargo Moorhead Local Group of Be SMART which operates under the auspices of the national organization Every town for Gun Safety. “We gave out more literature than gun locks, of course, but we gave out about 150 gun locks over the course of the event. It was a big surprise to me to give out so many, but people needed them. So of course, with the gun locks, we also gave them our brochure with information about securing guns and keeping kids safe.”

In addition to hosting tables at various events around the metro area, this is the second year that Be SMART has hosted a table at the zoo’s Halloween event. The program strives to distribute information to all adults to help keep kids safe from firearms and was able to also hand out gun locks with the help of a Pohlad grant out of the Twin Cities. When the program ran out of locks to distribute, they applied for a grant from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation and were named a September 2022 grantee to restock their supply.

“Sometimes people think that if they don’t own guns they don’t need to be concerned about it,” Martha said earnestly. “However, there are millions of guns in the United States, millions of homes where those guns are not secured—often unlocked and loaded. I don’t know how many people understand that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American children, and many of those deaths are preventable. I usually tell people that there are five simple things that we can all do whether we’re gun owners or not.”

SMART is an acronym: 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 role of guns in suicide; Tell your peers to be SMART.

“Asking about unsecured guns in the homes our kid’s visit—whether it’s a play date, a party, or a staying with a relative—should just be a standard safety inquiry. For a lot of people, guns are just part of their lifestyle. Because of that, people don’t think about the necessity to secure guns, especially if they don’t have children around regularly. I’ve heard stories where children have gone to visit their grandparents’ homes and there were loaded guns under the bed. And kids are curious,” continued Martha.

One of the core tenants of the Be SMART program is that because kids are curious by nature and learn through interacting with their environment, the onus of gun safety has to be on adults. To that end, Martha continually seeks out opportunities to share a 20-minute presentation to various adult organizations. The program currently partners with local doctors and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and hopes to create similar relationships with school boards, public health programs and “anybody who cares about kids.”

“There are a variety of locks available. The one we give out is a good but inexpensive cable lock that usually runs between $5 and $20 dollars. They work for most guns and there are tutorials on Youtube for using them on different gun types. So, they are pretty helpful, particularly with small children in the house where it is easier to keep the key or combination out of reach. With older children, you want something more secure, a gun safe if possible. Teenagers are resourceful. If they are considering suicide, sometimes just slowing things down so it is less impulsive can make a difference.”

While the program concentrates on education, the clear need for more gun locks in the community has reinforced their intent to continue distributing cable locks until they once again run out, though they hope to secure funding for additional locks before that occurs.

“Giving gun locks to people who don’t have them will help save lives,” Martha said simply.

To learn more about this program, check out the website or contact Martha Wheeler at [email protected] if interested in a presentation, donating funds, or helping out as a volunteer for BeSMART.

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation. org/en/chapters/cassclay

“Gun violence has a devastating impact on children in America. In fact, nearly 40 percent of child gun deaths are suicides—nearly 700 child gun suicides each year. One study showed that over 80 percent of children under the age of 18 who died by gun suicide used a gun belonging to a parent or relative. For people of all ages, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times. Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. In fact, 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun result in death—a much higher fatality rate than any other means of self-harm. This contributes to the fact that 41 percent of child suicides involve a gun. A national survey of high school students found that 20 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide within the last year. And one study showed that 41 percent of adolescents in gun-owning households report having “easy access” to the guns in their home.” -From the Be SMART’s Facts and Resources on Child Firearm Suicide Sheet

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