COLUMBIA, S.C. — After a recent rash of reports of weapons in Midlands schools and children being shot, superintendents and local law enforcement are partnering to promote responsible gun ownership and gun safety through the Be SMART program.
Be SMART is an acronym which stands for:
- S: Secure all guns in your home and vehicles,
- M: Model responsible behavior around guns,
- A: Ask about unsecured guns in other homes your children visit,
- R: Recognize the role of guns in suicide,
- T: Tell your peers to be SMART.
The Be SMART program, developed by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, aims to help parents and other adults have conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries.
"This is the only time we can stand together and not argue about what’s best for our children," said Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox with the Sumter County School District.
Martin-Knox said changes need to be made before more students get hurt in schools.
"The stories, the horrifying stories, the screams that give you chills, just the thought to try to comfort children even after they’ve experienced, by observing or by being involved, by violence across the nation, it continues," Martin-Knox said.
Orangeburg County School District superintendent Shawn Foster is not only fighting for his district, but for the protection of his own kids.
“I’ve also gone through that as a parent, who had a child in the school during a school shooting," Foster said. "I understand the concerns, and I see the need for this community to come together."
Foster said the lack of gun locks are a big part of the problem.
"If you look through the dictionary, there’s not a definition for a parent who loses their child, which tells us that’s not supposed to happen," Foster said.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said parents need to do better at securing their guns and keeping them away from kids.
"A gun is going to get you in one of two places, a jail or a cemetery," Lott said. "A responsible gun owner is making sure that a gun is secure and teaching our young people about life and respect for life."
There have been at least five instances of gunfire and at least 29 reports of firearms on South Carolina school grounds this year, according to a 'Be Smart' report.
"That’s 29 guns that we know of in schools," said Angela Vandelay, Volunteer Co-Lead with Midlands Be Smart. "We don’t know how many more guns are brought to school that aren’t discovered."
According to the report, nearly 80% of school shooters got guns from their home or the homes of relatives and friends. 75% percent of active shooters were current or former students.
Fairfield County School District superintendent Dr. J.R. Green said to see change in our schools, it needs to be more than the schools' responsibility.
"If it is just us involved in that effort, we won't be successful," Green said. "It'll take the efforts of every single person in our community and we're simply saying if you are a gun owner, do your part to ensure that your firearm is secure."
Green said the community can help by locking up their guns and talking to children about gun safety.
Martin-Knox agrees with Dr. Green about educating students, but says we need to protect them first.
"We will continue to do what’s best for children and it begins today, and it will continue for a lifetime," Martin-Knox said.
Officials say parents should also watch for dramatic changes in their child's behavior and signs of wanting to cause harm to themselves or others.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster says it's okay to be involved with your child's life and ask how things are going.
Dr. Carrie Caudill, a licensed counselor in Columbia, says an easy way to start a conversation is to ask how school is.
"It’s really helpful to go to friends," Dr. Caudill said. "The friends that she may have had for the last three years of her life, they’re not talking to her or responding to her texts. That would be more significant to me, again not her mood changes, necessarily because we do expect some of that with teenagers."