A trigger lock is placed on a gun seen Wednesday at the Bangor barracks of the Maine State Police. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

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Maura Pillsbury of Freeport is a volunteer with Maine Moms Demand Action and advocate for the Be SMART program.

Gun violence hit home in the Waterville community earlier this month when a child got ahold of an unsecured gun and critically wounded his 2-year-old brother. Thankfully, the young boy who was shot made it through surgery and is recovering, but the pain and trauma his family has experienced is far from over.

For many of us, it can feel like there’s no good time to talk about how guns are stored in the home — and oftentimes the conversation happens too late. But as parents, we have a responsibility to talk about how to keep our kids safe. Keeping guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition is critical to ensuring our kids don’t unintentionally hurt themselves or others.

There are so many things we do to make our households and communities safer, and secure gun storage must be part of that list. The benefits of securely storing guns go far beyond just keeping our children safe. Keeping guns locked prevents them from being stolen and falling into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. Secure storage is also a critical tool in preventing gun suicide — which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all gun deaths in Maine.

Raising the topic of secure gun storage can seem foreign, but the consequences of kids getting ahold of unsecured guns are too high to leave to chance. Just as we raise concerns about allergies when our kids go on playdates, we must think about gun storage the same way. Asking about guns in the home is just another precaution that can save our families from preventable tragedy. It’s on all of us, as adults, to take these steps to keep our kids safe.

In my own discussions, a response I hear often is that kids know not to touch our firearms. But the reality is, kids are curious and we can’t rely on them to know better. Research shows that even children who have gone through a week-long gun safety training are just as likely as children with no training to play with a handgun when they find one. Teaching our kids about gun safety is important, but it’s not a guarantee that they won’t find and handle unsecured firearms.

We can’t treat unintentional shootings by children as accidents or something we have no control over. For gun owners, keeping guns locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition is an effective, common-sense safety measure that must be a standard practice. And for those who don’t own guns, we need to have conversations about how guns are stored when our children visit other homes. We must do everything we can to prevent children from getting a hold of unsecured guns and hurting themselves and others.

Next week, Maine Moms Demand Action will partner with Educare Central Maine learning center to host a book drive in Waterville. We hope to purchase 300 books — one for each student served at the Educare child care center. Every book purchased will include information on Be SMART, a secure gun storage program for gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

There’s no easy way to talk about the kind of tragedy that happened in Waterville, and my heart aches for that young boy’s family. Unfortunately, they are not alone in their pain — hundreds of unintentional shootings by children happen every year across this country. We can’t accept this as normal.

We can’t reverse the unintentional shooting that took place in the Waterville community, but we can all work together to make sure no one else experiences the same trauma. It’s on all of us to keep unsecured guns out of the hands of children and teens and keep our families safe from gun violence.