• Article
  • June 7, 2018

A Firearm Safety Toolkit Children's Hospitals Can Adapt

Seattle Children's leaned on its experience with previous safety campaigns to increase the use of booster seats and life jackets to develop its firearm safety program. 

For Elizabeth 'Tizzy' Bennett and the team at Seattle Children's, the 2014 shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School hit close to home. Combined with unintentional shootings, youth suicide rates and youth violence in the community, the Marysville school shooting—taking the lives of five kids about 35 miles from the hospital—was the final straw.

"It was the tipping point for us to be more involved with preventing firearm related injuries and deaths," says Bennett, M.P.H., MCHES, director of community health and engagement at Seattle Children's. "Our community health assessment validated the need and we had strong leadership support." Though she says they weren't sure immediately what course of action to take, they've since built a flagship program in firearm safety.

Top three goals

The hospital leaned on its experience with previous safety campaigns to increase the use of booster seats and life jackets to develop its firearm safety program. One key component, according to Bennett: taking their message directly to the community in the form of giveaway events. The firearm safety events are based upon three primary goals:

  • Enabling safe firearm storage. The hospital gives away free gun lock boxes and trigger locks to all interested firearm owners, with a particular focus on parents and caregivers. Since the first event in December 2014, Seattle Children's has held 15 events around the state of Washington, giving away more than 4,000 lock boxes and trigger locks.
  • Providing education. Each event includes positive messaging around firearm safety and safe firearm storage and the opportunity for demonstration and practice. 
  • Ongoing research. The hospital evaluates the events to assess impact and to make improvements including pre and post surveys with attendees.

Supported by research

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows safe firearm storage practices can reduce the risk of a child's death by firearm by as much as 85 percent. Meanwhile, research conducted following several Seattle Children's safe firearm storage giveaway events showed a "significantly greater proportion" of attendees practicing safe firearm storage practices six weeks after receiving their free locking devices.

Creating a firearm safety event

To ensure they would most effectively communicate their message, Seattle Children's conducted a survey of its target audience—firearm owners, specifically those who are parents and child caregivers. Those findings helped forge the event blueprint and answer some of the key questions to a successful event, according to Bennett:

  • Where? Sporting goods stores. That's where firearm owners said they'd be most comfortable attending events.
  • How much? Free. Removing the barrier of cost is pivotal to getting as many safe storage devices as possible into the hands of firearm owners.
  • Who? Firearm-owning parents and caregivers and community partners, who are crucial to helping establish community connections and getting the word out. Partners can also help defray some of the costs associated with an event. Seattle Children's has partnered with several organizations to help make the events successful, including local public health departments and hospitals, Safe Kids Coalitions and sporting goods retailers. "We are not out there doing this by ourselves," Bennett says. "Partnerships are key to the success of these events."
  • What to say? Keep it focused. Resist the temptation to include summer or water (or any other) safety messages—stick to firearm safety and safe firearm storage.

Bennett says focusing on a common goal is a must. "Our unifying message, which we've found a lot of people can rally around, is, 'Protect our kids, and keep our families safe,'" Bennett says. "No matter what your opinions or feelings are about firearms, everyone wants to protect their kids. That is our message, and it's very positive."

A blueprint for others

Seattle Children's has packaged information from its firearm safety campaign into a toolkit available for other institutions to use when developing or enhancing their own programs. "One of the most important things we can do is to share what's working, so others are able to do this and build on it," Bennett says.

Although creating an event-based campaign may seem daunting, Bennett says the key is to find momentum around your organization. The first step is to pull together a group of people looking to make a difference. And as a children's hospital, draw upon your experience in promoting community safety.

"People look to their children's hospitals around safety, and this is a great addition to whatever hospitals are already doing," Bennett says. "We all promote injury prevention, so moving into this work around firearm tragedies—injuries and deaths from firearms—is absolutely doable."

Access the firearm safety event planning toolkit from Seattle Children's.