A gun lock on a pistol at the Meriden Police Department, June 21, 2019. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)

When the rioters breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the younger congressional staff members knew what to do. They recalled their training — the “shelter-in-place” and “active shooter” training that started after the Columbine shooting and have become ubiquitous. 

One of us is a former educator who experienced middle-school lockdowns because of neighborhood gun violence. The other of us is the mother of a children ages 19 months and 3 years old who participate in regular “shelter-in-place” drills at their child care center — a license requirement in Colorado.

As experts in public health, child and maternal health, research and policy, we know where Colorado stands in firearm injuries and deaths and how to create a safer environment for all Colorado families.

Erin Miller and Erica Manoatl

While mass shootings are frightening, they are, thankfully, rare; but deaths by firearm among children and youth in Colorado are not.

While many teens have the coping skills they need or are able to access additional support, the rate of teen suicide in Colorado is at record levels. In 2018, 69 Colorado youth died by suicide, and the rate of firearm suicide among Colorado youth is up 80% since the early 2000s, based on our analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Between 2013 and 2017, 254 Colorado kids and teens died due to firearm injuries, more than half of which were suicides, our analysis of CDC data shows. Suicide attempts with a firearm are almost always fatal, and recent evidence suggests that many adolescents who die by firearm suicide use guns obtained from a parent or family member.

Even children who are not directly injured by firearms are affected by gun violence. Nationally, many youth witness gun violence in their families or communities, and a majority worry about experiencing a shooting themselves. These tragedies create community-wide trauma and toxic stress.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

But with the Colorado legislature back in session, there is good news for Colorado kids. State Reps. Kyle Mullica and Monica Duran are proposing legislation to require that people store their firearms securely and away from children. Their House Bill 1106 is expected to get its first hearing in early March.

Creating a new crime is a serious undertaking, but more than 15 other states have these child access prevention laws on their books. These laws have high-quality evidence behind them demonstrating significant decreases in unintentional firearm injuries, deaths and suicides among children.

Some researchers estimate that these laws may have spillover effects in reducing adult suicide as well.  Suicide is one of the driving causes of maternal mortality in Colorado, and it is no secret that kids do better when their parents are safe as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need to protect our youth. Children are facing significant mental health effects due to social isolation and they are spending more time at home, with more time to explore and potentially find unsecured firearms. 

A survey administered by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative in spring and fall 2020 found that student emotional support was a top concern cited by school and district leaders across the state.

Our youth need a number of resources to support their social and emotional wellbeing and recovery from COVID-19, and requiring that firearms be stored security is one concrete step that we can take now. It has the potential to reduce firearm injuries, deaths and suicides among our children – and can help keep other family members safe, too.

Let’s make Colorado a better place to be a kid. Join us this legislative session in asking your legislator to support HB-1106 to prevent child access to firearms in Colorado.

The warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die, looking for a way to kill oneself, and talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, among others. If you or a loved one need support or counseling, you can contact free, confidential and professional support through Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.

Erin Miller is vice president of health initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Erica Manoatl is manager of research initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Both have master’s degrees in Public Health from Columbia University.

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to opinion@coloradosun.com. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)

Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Erica Manoatl

Special to The Colorado Sun

Erin Miller

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @erinashmiller