Gun safety & responsibility starts at home

Published 9:11 am Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Before diving into this week’s column topic, let me be among those to congratulate Joella Brown of Northeast Academy and Charles Simmons of Hertford County High School for reaching milestone victories in their respective coaching careers.

On Jan. 10, Simmons watched his Bears defeat Camden County High School, 66-51. That marked the 700th career coaching victory for Simmons. He’s been in Ahoskie since 1983, first coaching the AHS Cougars before Ahoskie and Murfreesboro high schools merged in 1988 to form what is now Hertford County High School.

Since that Jan. 10th victory, the Bears have reeled off three more wins, improving their overall record to 12-3 this season. With eight more regular season games remaining on the schedule, plus the conference and state tournaments on the horizon, there are plenty of opportunities for coach Simmons to add more wins to his career record.

Meanwhile, over in Lasker, NC, coach Brown recorded her 500th career win this past Friday night (Jan. 20) when her Lady Eagles of Northeast Academy edged past Terra Ceia Christian School, 32-30.

Like Simmons, Brown has been coaching basketball since 1983. She has spent her entire career at Northeast, starting out as the coach of the junior varsity program before being promoted to varsity coach in 1986.

And, like Simmons, she also serves her school as its Athletics Director. Additionally, Brown is the coach of NEA’s girls tennis team.

As for NEA’s girls basketball program future, there’s always hope for success with coach Brown on the bench. While her teams traditionally lack depth, they more than make up for that by being mentally and physically tough…characteristics of a Joella Brown-coached team.

The point of this week’s column, however, isn’t about basketball. But I would miss a great opportunity if I didn’t mention that coaches Brown and Simmons could serve as great teachers to advise parents on the dangers associated with not properly securing weapons.

While headlines of shootings are unfortunately becoming a daily occurrence, what’s more troubling is reading stories about children with guns. I’m not talking about teens here, but children under the age of 10.

Because of our close proximity to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, we should be keenly aware of recent news out of Newport News where a first grade student shot and injured his teacher.

The weapon – a 9 mm Taurus handgun – had been legally purchased by the child’s mother. Apparently, the firearm was not in a secure location, allowing the six-year-old to get his hands on it, place it inside his backpack, and take it to school.

While there have been increased efforts all across the nation to secure schools and keep them safe from those with evil intentions, it’s a safe guess on my part to believe that school officials don’t routinely conduct searches of elementary-age children. Plus, we don’t see metal detectors at elementary schools and only a small percentage of schools (at any grade level) require students to use clear backpacks.

But at issue here is a child getting their hands on a loaded weapon that was inside their home.

An online article on the New York Post website used Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who has studied school violence, as a source for information. He pointed to research that found that children under 10 were as likely as older children to know where guns were stored in the home. Another study found that 70 percent of 5- to 6-year olds, and 90 percent of 7- to 8-year-olds had enough finger strength to pull the trigger.

“The children know where the guns are and how they are stored,” he said.

That calls into question why wasn’t the weapon secured in a gun safe or at least with a trigger lock? Even without those devices, I struggle to wrap my head around how a six-year-old knew how to disengage the safety, take careful aim at a target, and pull the trigger.

Recently, I was watching an episode of “On Patrol: Live” that showed a toddler (age unknown, but young enough to be wearing a diaper) on a neighbor’s doorbell camera. The child was roaming in the hallway of an apartment building holding and pointing a handgun. In one extremely scary moment, the child pointed the weapon at their face.

The Beech Grove, Indiana Police were notified and responded. The toddler’s father denied having a handgun in his apartment, but a short time later, after the police saw the doorbell cam video, they went to the apartment and discovered a 9 mm Smith & Wesson inside a closed roll-top desk.

The father, a convicted felon who is not permitted to have a firearm, was arrested on suspicion of felony neglect of a dependent and providing a firearm to a child.

In September of last year, a loaded handgun was found in the backpack of a four-year-old Pre-K student in Corpus Christi, Texas. A police officer at that school quickly took possession of the weapon.

A 30-year-old member of the child’s family was arrested and charged with making a firearm accessible to children and abandoning or endangering a child.

Around the same time, a seven-year-old student at an elementary school in Bowie, Arizona hid a handgun and ammunition in their backpack and entered the facility.

“The parents were interviewed and advised that the weapons had been placed in what they believed to be a secure location away from the children after a recent camping trip,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement that was printed by the New York Post on their website.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said it was unlikely the child’s parents would face charges.

Parents/guardians need to be charged in cases such as the ones I’ve referenced here. They are responsible for the actions of their children. Being a responsible parent starts with ensuring that any weapon they own is in a secured place.

It’s also a parent’s job to explain and demonstrate to their child, as they mature in age, how weapons work and how to handle them safely.

My “responsible” dad taught me that when I was 10-years-old. Now nearly 60 years later, those were lessons well-learned.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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