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Columbus Hands Out Gun Lockboxes To Discourage Accidental Shootings, Promote Safety

 A Care Coalition worker hands out lockboxes at a Stop the Violence event at Mayme Moore Park.
Nick Evans
/
wosu
A Care Coalition worker hands out lockboxes at a Stop the Violence event at Mayme Moore Park.

Homicides are happening at a record pace in Columbus this year. With that kind of violence demanding attention, it could be easy to miss a rash of accidental shootings.

Police have reported seven such shootings this year, five just since the beginning of March. One organization is giving out free gun lockboxes to help curb accidental shootings.

Garrett Ford is driving a spatula between half-frozen hamburger patties and tossing them on an old barrel grill.

“Of course we give them a variety between pork and beef. So some people like pork, some people like beef so that’s why we cook both,” Ford said.

He explained he’s trying out wood tonight instead of charcoal to cook up food for a Stop the Violence event at Mayme Moore Park.

“Right now it’s looking a lot better, so let’s see if it adds more taste to the food,” he said with a grin, “Because I get it, it’s free. But you know we get quality free food, rather than just, ‘ah that’s free food—crappy food.’ Naw, we want to put some taste in ours.”

The event is loosely organized, with a wide array of volunteer and service organizations teaming up to do community outreach together. That includes the Columbus Care Coalition, which has a small cart loaded down with free lockboxes for guns.

Garrett Ford cooking on the grill.
Nick Evans
Garrett Ford cooks food on a grill during the Stop the Violence event at Mayme Moore Park.

Columbus is grappling with another law enforcement killing, and at the same time, the city is seeing homicides stack up at record pace. With that kind of violence demanding attention, it could be easy to miss a rash of accidental shootings.

Already police have reported seven such shootings this year, five just since the beginning of March. Giving out free lockboxes is one way the city is trying to respond.

Rachel Fleming picked one up. She thinks the program says a lot about the current moment in communities like this one.

“That there’s a significant need,” she said. “That there’s definitely a significant need for these types of programs and things. And that the fact the people are trying to give them out for free says that we definitely need this in the community with all the acts of gun violence and harm being done in the city right now.”

Marian Stuckey leads the Columbus Care Coalition. The program started out as a kind of trauma response team. After a shooting or homicide, coalition members visit the victim’s family and neighbors to connect them with counseling and other kinds of support.

Marian Stuckey
Nick Evans
Marian Stuckey leads the Columbus Care Coalition.

She says many of the people they work with feel unsafe, and some respond to that by buying a gun. So, when a family member is injured or killed by a weapon meant to protect them, Stuckey said it can be particularly traumatic.

“I think there’s a certain kind of guilt when it comes to gun violence, and you can add to it when it was your own weapon of course,” Stuckey explained. “But parents often, even if the weapon wasn’t theirs, the parents [are] feeling like a sense of where did I go wrong? Where could I have been a better parent? We hear that a lot.”

The victims in all but one of the accidental shootings so far this year were kids, the youngest just four years old.

In an attempt to curb those incidents, Stuckey was able to secure funding from the city to purchase lock boxes.

“So you know if we have safe storage, we could hopefully prevent future losses of life or accidental shootings that result when guns are just not safely stored,” she says.

Stuckey described the approach as getting on the front side of trauma.

Back at the park, event organizer Derrick Russell said there needs to be more of that as the city attempts to reduce violence.

“So it might be a whole two weeks where it might not be no shooting,” Russell said. “That don’t mean that you stop giving the people the resources, the mental health, the job opportunities and all that. You’ve got to stay out in front of it, and I hope the city would say out in front of it. Don’t sit back and wait.”

Derrick Russell
Nick Evans
Derrick Russell organized the Stop the Violence event at Mayme Moore Park.

While he fliped burgers and checks on hot dogs, Ford took a second to think about whether handing out lock boxes will really be effective at reducing accidental shootings, or perhaps even violence more broadly.

“It may not seem like it because you know we’ll do this and they’ll see the same thing happening right over again,” he said. “But you know, it’s better to try it and see if it does something, rather than do nothing and let it happen.”

The lockbox program is still in its infancy. Stuckey said they only started handing them out in February. Already they’ve given away more than 150.