Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 7, 2013

Gun safe mom: Brother's shooting death prompts advocacy

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com , landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – The way Missy Carson Smith sees it, advocating for gun safety in the home is not about gun control or gun ownership. It’s about keeping kids safe in their homes and the homes of friends they visit.

It’s about having conversations with spouses and other parents about how guns are stored and made inaccessible to children.

It’s about developing a family gun safety plan and being willing to be identified as a gun-safe mom or dad and talk about it.

Gun safety is dear to Smith’s heart. Her brother, Jeffrey, died at age 12 in 1986 when an emotionally disturbed classmate invited him to his house and then shot him five minutes later with a family firearm. She was 13.

Today, Smith is a mother of four daughters ages 5 to 9, a former elementary teacher, and founder of Gun Safe Mom, an advocacy organization she started in 2009 after learning that her daughter’s first play date had been in a home with at least one unlocked gun in it.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” Smith said. “I had put my daughter’s safety at risk by agreeing to the play date before asking the other child’s parents if guns were in the home.”

She recognized her discomfort and her fear of offending them — a fear she believes is shared by many parents, especially women.

She realized she and husband Jeff, who comes from a long line of hunters, never had talked about the old unloaded family hunting guns in their home and how uncomfortable she felt about them.

They talked. She told them they either needed to buy a gun safe big enough to accommodate a rifle or get rid of them.

She also discussed her concerns with the parents in the home where her kindergartner had played.

“They recognized the devastation my family experienced,” she said. “We didn’t have the same views on gun control, but we did agree that the way the guns in their home were being stored put children and people in their home at risk.”

That talk sparked Gun Safe Mom, the organization and Facebook page she started four years ago to advocate for gun safety. Smith realized that she, in part because of her brother’s death, might be able to help other parents have those conversations.

In November, she took a new step — developing a business that includes information meetings, public speaking at schools, churches and conferences, and consulting.

She began planning a community event to raise gun safety awareness and the launch of her own business web page, www.GunsSafeMom.com, during the week of her brother’s Jan. 26, 1986 death.

On Dec. 14, something happened that changed the structure of that event but not the concept — the mass murder of 20 first-graders and six adult staff members at Sandy Hill Elementary School in New Jersey.

The hits (“likes”) to Smith’s posts soared from the average 200 to 700 that day. Three weeks later, on Jan. 22, Smith’s “Our Town is Newtown: Peaceful Forward Motion” forum, with a panel of speakers, was held at the City Opera House.

About 100 people came.

Smith said her work zeros in on gun safety and steers clear of politics and gun control legislation and rights debates.

“I focus on parental awareness and education regarding gun accessibility and the importance of talking about it,” she said.

For more information on Gun Safe Mom, contact Smith by email through her website, www.gunsafemom.com.