Straight talk on guns

James Brady

March 31, 1992|By James Brady

ELEVEN years ago yesterday, I was shot in the head by a gunman intent on killing my boss, President Ronald Reagan.

Most people don't consider the possibility of becoming a victim of gun violence. Most people believe "this will never happen to me." So did Jim Brady, once.

But after I was shot, my 5-year-old son, Scott, picked up a loaded handgun in a friend's truck and almost became a victim. Then I realized that no one is immune from this epidemic.

The recent shooting of two young students at a Brooklyn high school shocked the nation. But sadly they weren't the only children who were victims of gun violence that week. Kids all over the country are living in a society where guns are readily available and gun violence is on the rise -- on the streets, in their neighborhoods and more and more often in their schools.

An estimated 400,000 boys took guns to school in 1987, according to the most recent National School Safety Center statistics. One in five high school students carries a weapon. As the violence rises, more kids turn to guns in the false hope the weapons will protect them. Day after day, we hear of children murdered for their sneakers or leather jackets, or shot simply because they looked at somebody the wrong way."

The "duck and cover" drills of the 1990s no longer mean hiding from atomic bombs; children must learn to drop to the floor at the sound of gunfire. Schools are spending millions of dollars to install metal detectors, hire additional security personnel and even build concrete walls around schools to keep out the violence plaguing the streets. Our places of learning are becoming fortresses.

Like many parents, I worry about sending my child to school. I don't want my son or anyone to experience what I've been through. The pain, the years of therapy, the loss of independence -- this part of gun violence is rarely shown on television or in the movies, or in the follow-up stories on the children caught in the cross-fire.

Children are exposed to gun violence at such an early age that they simply cannot distinguish between reality and make-believe. They see their favorite TV stars involved in gunfights, often being "killed," only to turn up next week on another action-packed program. Children don't see the real pain experienced by a victim of gun violence, the grief caused to friends and family members who must deal with the death or injury of a loved one.

Because I want to spare others this suffering, I have joined my wife, Sarah, in her campaign for a safer America -- where people can walk the streets in safety and parents can send their children to school to worry about passing a history test, instead of getting through their classes alive.

We recognize that common-sense gun laws and increased security alone won't solve our epidemic of gun violence. Children must be taught other ways to resolve conflicts. Certainly, they must learn that guns are not the easy answer to solving life's problems.

Because I believe that we must do everything in our power to save the next generation, I have joined the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, a nonprofit education, research and legal action organization, in launching the first national school program to reduce gun injuries and deaths: Straight Talk About Risks.

The curriculum teaches children how to stay safe when encountering guns, how to resist peer pressure to play with or carry guns and how to distinguish between real-life and TV violence.

Teachers will be trained by the center to use classroom exercises and program materials to help students make better decisions and resolve conflicts without violence. Students will watch a videotape in which children who have been shot talk about the pain they and their families have felt ever since. Activities such as role-playing and children-led group discussions will encourage self-esteem, leadership abilities and an understanding of how emotions affect our decisions.

Gun violence is very real. No one can bring back the children lost to school violence this year, but the Straight Talk About Risks curriculum will help prevent tragedies and give the next generation a chance for a future.

James Brady was White House press secretary.

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