Handguns on display at a gunshop in Fresno County on March 15, 2023. Credit: Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

Most unintentional shooting deaths involving children occur as a result of an unloaded and unlocked firearm. California has already seen several unintentional shootings of our young people this year, including an 11-year-old in Salinas, a 13-year-old in Stockton and a 15-year-old boy in Yuba City.

Unfortunately, I know how their parents feel. My 15-year-old son, Kenzo, was visiting a friend of his, when the boy quietly went and got the handgun his father kept loaded and unlocked next to his bed. When he removed the magazine, he thought he’d unloaded it. He brought it back to the room where Kenzo was and pulled the trigger.

The bullet hidden in the chamber killed my son.

After Kenzo died, I met many other parents who had suddenly lost a child in similar unintentional shootings. All parents deserve to know that their kids will be safe on a playdate.

In order to help make that a reality, every member of our community needs to be educated on the importance of storing guns safely.

Fortunately, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed by President Biden last year, provided California with more than $29 million for gun violence reduction programs. It is critical that state leaders allocate a significant portion of that funding to develop public education campaigns on safe firearm storage.

In 2020, researchers at UC Davis found that nearly 40% of gun owners in California stored at least one gun loaded or unlocked. That needs to change, and it’s been proven that public education can help.

The gun violence prevention organization Brady has seen an impact with their End Family Fire public education campaign: 48% of gun owners who saw the campaign ads about safe firearm storage changed how or where they store their firearms.

Investing in public education can have benefits in addition to more safe firearm storage. Since I lost Kenzo, I’ve met families in California that have lost children to gun suicides, mass shootings and everyday gun violence committed by people who were clearly an obvious risk to themselves or others. We have failed to keep those kids safe, in part because policies like California’s gun violence restraining orders, or so-called red flag laws, are not being effectively utilized.

These laws authorize not only police officers but also family members to petition a civil court to temporarily remove a gun from someone who is clearly a risk. Red flag laws are designed to prevent gun violence while still respecting someone’s rights, and they can be especially useful for suicide prevention. But a comprehensive review by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office found the laws aren’t being utilized, especially by family and household members who know each other best.

In 2020, red flag laws were only filed at a rate of about 4 per 100,000 people across California. That’s roughly eight times lower than the utilization rate in Florida, which is 34 per 100,000. Of the orders filed from 2016 to 2018, only 4% were by family or household members. Law enforcement filed the rest.

Families don’t know about the life-saving tool, and this lack of awareness means that the policy is unable to save as many lives as it could.

Lawmakers can save the lives of kids like Kenzo and many others in California by investing a portion of the $29 million of federal funding that our state received to educate everyone on how important it is to store guns safely and to use red flag laws when they see a serious risk. Survivors like me are counting on the state decision-makers to make it happen.

Griffin Dix

This article was originally published by CalMatters.