Missy Carson Smith wants her hometown to start talking about guns.
But the conversation isn’t about gun rights, or an anti-gun movement, or even personal feelings about gun ownership – all topics dominating the gun issue nationally right now. Instead, she wants conversations starting among families, friends and neighbors about the guns that may be in your house, and in any other house, where children may play.
Smith is readying for the national launch of Gun Safe Mom, her homegrown campaign designed to help parents peacefully approach the emotionally-charged topic of gun accessibility and safety. The Ticker talked to Smith recently to learn how she got started and what she hopes to accomplish.
Ironically, Smith’s story starts with silence. The topic of gun accessibility in her own home was a conversation she had never had with the person she trusted most, her husband – a man who comes from a long line of sportsmen and gun owners.
“The experience of my childhood wasn’t enough to carry me into motherhood,” says Smith, today a parent of four young girls.
That experience? When Smith was 13, her 12-year-old brother Jeffrey was shot and killed by a classmate while playing at his house.
When it came to guns, “I was coming from such a different place … so negative, overridingly so,” she says. The lack of gun talk was well-intentioned – out of deference to her family’s tragedy, she says – but not right.
That all changed three years ago when she found out – after the fact –that her eldest daughter, a kindergartner at the time, had been playing at a house where there was an unlocked gun.
That was her wake-up call.
If this conversation was so difficult for Smith to have – despite her tragic personal connection to guns – how could she expect other families to do the same, in the name of children’s safety? The question had to be asked: Do you have guns in your house and, if so, how are they stored?
That conversation with her husband– and the one she subsequently had with the parents of her daughter’s friend – laid the groundwork for Gun Safe Mom, a model for parents to politely, peacefully and respectively approach the topic of gun safety anywhere their children may play.
It’s a “feathers down,” commonsense approach, she says, and it comes with a home safety sign letting visiting families know that the family who lives there has a gun safe home and is willing to discuss gun accessibility.
Smith knows every family is going to bring different views to the conversation, but it’s the simple act of straight-forward communication that ultimately matters most. “Engage, listen and act according to your values,” says Smith. “But we have to get it out, we have to be approachable.”
Gun Safe Town?
“I would love to see TC be the first town in the country where parents engage in these topics, “ Smith says. “We can respect differences. We’re grown-ups.”
In light of the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., she has organized a community event, “Newtown is Our Town: Peaceful Forward Motion.” She has gathered a panel of experts in mental health, education and law enforcement to discuss strategies for keeping a peaceful community.
The panel will also feature a couple of Traverse City parents – a local father who grew up in Newtown and knew a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and a local mother whose father was a first responder at the Columbine High School shooting.
The free event will be held Tues., Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. at the City Opera House in downtown Traverse City.