GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s not just doctors and nurses at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital who deal with the emotional aftereffects of gun violence involving children.

“It definitely has impacted me a lot,” Christina Triggs, environment service technician at DeVos, said.

Triggs is doing her part to reduce the problem, by picking up a few of the 900-gun locks made available at no charge thanks to a $15,000 grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics to DeVos Children’s.

A gun lock giveaway at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 6, 2023.
A gun lock giveaway at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 6, 2023.

“I know a couple of people who have them … and I think they would benefit from them,” Triggs said.

Grand Rapids is far from immune from incidents involving guns and young children.

Twice in the last month, a student has brought a gun to a Grand Rapids elementary school. Two weeks ago, 2-year-old KiAire McCoy died after her mother’s boyfriend left a loaded handgun between couch cushions. KiAire found the gun and shot himself.

Each case could have been prevented had the adult gun owner put it where a child couldn’t get to it.

These local cases reflect a national trend.

“Over the last year and a half to two years, the numbers have just about doubled, if not more,” Jodie Westra, injury prevention coordinator at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said.

The group Everytown for Gun Safety reports over 19,000 children and teens are killed or injured by firearms every year.

Information from a 2021 National Firearm Survey for the Journal of American Medicine Association shows one out of every three households with children under the age of 18 has a firearm. Forty-five percent of those homes don’t have the firearm locked up. 

From T-shirts to wristbands, you’ll see a lot of orange at Helen DeVos and other Corewell Health facilities this weekend.

“Orange is the color of keeping hunters safe, so it’s very intentional,” Westra said.

The hope is that seeing orange spurs a gun safety discussion.

A T-shirt urges parents to "Store It Safe" — lock up their guns. (June 2, 2023)
A T-shirt urges parents to “Store It Safe” — lock up their guns. (June 2, 2023)

“We don’t want it to be a political issue. We want to focus on that safety piece,” Westra said. “Whether it’s a child or an adult. And then we just discuss their firearms in the home and ask if they’re being stored safely. It’s all about providing them a safe storage option.”

And since you can’t control what goes on in someone else’s home, the talk extends to teaching kids to respect firearms.

“If kids are aware and they’re not curious, it’s going to prevent them from not playing with that gun,” Westra said.

She says another study by U of M Firearm Injury Prevention says those discussions can have an impact on children’s safety. 

“Two hundred fifty deaths could be prevented annually if 50% more parents locked their guns,” Westra said.