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"Kids are curious": St. Louis group says free gun locks can save lives

A Lock It For Love volunteer demonstrates how the lock works on a fake gun.

Today is the first day of summer and that means it’s the start of the busy season for Lise Bernstein. As the president of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, Bernstein is working her organization’s campaign to distribute free gun locks all summer.

Since the Lock It For Love program began in the spring of 2015, more than 1,800 gun locks have been handed out across St. Louis and St. Louis County. Organizers try to pass out gun locks in St. Louis zip codes where the risk for youth violence is high. That’s according the St. Louis Regional Youth Violence Prevention Task Force Community Plan,  which was released in 2013.

“We know there are a lot of children being affected by gun violence and in some cases it’s totally avoidable,” Bernstein said. “We’ve had many incidents where parents thought their kids didn’t know where the guns were hidden. They do. Kids are curious.”

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson stops to meet a family that got a free gun lock at the event at City Hall on June 21, 2017
Credit Jenny Simeone-Casas | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson stops to meet family members who received a free gun lock at the event at City Hall on Wednesday.

Bernstein says she got involved after hearing about a case in 2015 where a toddler in north St. Louis County found a loaded handgun and accidentally shot himself. She says she hopes passing out free gun locks can help prevent fatal accidents in the future.

“That’s a parent’s worst nightmare, nobody should have to suffer, not just the children who are being injured and killed, but the family members who have to carry that burden with them for the rest of their lives,” said Bernstein, who is a new grandmother.

Nationally, gunshot wounds are the second leading cause of death in children and teens, behind motor vehicle crashes. In Missouri,  gunshots are the  No. 1 killer of children and teens, according to Renee Manley-Markowski, an emergency care physician at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.

“We also had the unfortunate distinction in 2015 of being the state where the most toddlers shot themselves or other people,” Manley-Markowski said. “It’s not a distinction anyone wants.”  

Manley-Markowski spoke at an event for the Lock It For Love program held Wednesday at

St. Louis City Hall. Brenda Johnson was also there picking up a gun lock for her son, with her three grandchildren in mind.

“Kids are nosy, even if [a gun] is somewhere hiding, they’re sometimes looking around and messing with things,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he has it in a safe place to begin with, and I feel better now that he’ll have the lock for it also.”

At St. Louis City Hall, the group had passed out almost all 400 locks in two hours. They plan to be at a number of health fairs, safety programs, and park events throughout the region all summer.

Follow Jenny on Twitter @jnnsmn