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BJC Healthcare expands free gun lock program in the St. Louis region

Handgun illustration, guns
LA Johnson
A BCJ Healthcare program that gives families free gun locks to make sure they store weapons safely and protect children is expanding to more than 20 locations.

When Dr. Lindsay Clukies, an emergency medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, noticed a high number of children coming into the emergency room with firearm-related injuries, she saw a need for gun safety measures.

During the pandemic, St. Louis Children’s Hospital saw a rise in gunshot victims. In 2022, emergency rooms around the region saw 163 children with gunshot wounds, Clukies said. That broke the previous record of 150 in 2020.

“It takes a split second, and there's nothing that will compare to telling a family that their child died from a preventable firearm injury,” she said.

Since 2021, Clukies has led BJC Healthcare’s gun safety intervention program, which provides free gun locks to families needing them. This year, BJC Healthcare expanded its gun safety program to more than 20 locations in Missouri and Illinois.

The program began when doctors began asking all families bringing children into the emergency room about access to firearms in the home.

“We see over 50,000 children a year in our emergency department for a variety of reasons and screened every family that came into the ER,” Clukies said.

Her department needed to do the screening in a way that included social workers, nurses and physicians and to make sure the questions they asked were neutral and nonpolitical, she said.

“Our job was to meet families where they were, not to judge,” Clukies said. "So we emphasized the reason we were asking these questions was to keep their children safe.”

The program gave families a free gun lock with instructions and gun safety education, free of charge, during their hospital visit.

The hospital now keeps gun locks in baskets with educational brochures in waiting rooms in BJC family care centers, children’s hospitals and emergency rooms throughout the region.

“We’ve given out over 5,000 gunlocks with this initiative,” Clukies said.

About two-thirds of the families that received BJC gun locks are using them and taking other measures to improve safety, such as storing guns and ammunition separately, she said.

“Our baskets were emptying. Within one month of expanding the program, 400 gun locks were taken,” Clukies said.

BJC offers multiple gun locks to families that need them or want to give one to other relatives. It also provides them to BJC employees.

“We really just want to make it easy for our community members to keep their firearms stored safely and out of the reach of children,” Clukies said.

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.

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