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My son Noah was a social butterfly. Everybody knew who he was, and he loved everybody. If a teacher got a new car, or someone was dating or breaking up, Noah knew. People just shared information with him. And he loved having friends over and spending the night at friends' houses.
He would have been 16 this past Wednesday. We visit his grave on his birthday and have pizza and cake.
On the night of December 30, 2011, Noah was shot and killed by his best friend with one of the four guns the friend had laying in his bedroom. They were not locked. The friend picked up the gun and was “playing” around and pulled the trigger. That "playful" action destroyed my life and created a sorrow in me that will never go away.
I’m not even sure that other people completely understand what it feels like to bury your child. Especially when it wasn’t because of anything he did or anything you did. It was because of someone else’s irresponsibility and poor judgment.
Here’s how I found out. I got a call in the middle of the night to go check on the boys. I didn’t know that meant something bad had happened until I got closer to the house and saw the yellow caution tape, the ambulance and the police officers out front. I went into shock, which is a good thing, since I couldn’t absorb all of the trauma at once. Instead, my body and my mind slowly became aware that I was getting the worst news of my entire life.
In all those years of play dates and sleepovers, I never had anyone ask me about my guns, and I never asked anyone else about theirs. I didn't think to ask. I would have never let my child go there if I had known they had guns lying around unsecured. That's something I live with for the rest of my life. If I would have known, if I would have asked the question and maybe if they had told me the truth, I wouldn't have let him go.
I am a gun owner. I believe in gun locks and following strict safety procedures around guns. I am always surprised that some folks view my beliefs as being against the right to bear arms. I am not against guns. Noah was raised around guns. He went hunting for the first time when he was three years old. The difference between us and a lot of other gun owners is that we understand the power a gun can have when not in the right hands or is handled improperly. Guns should be locked and kept away from curious children. They were definitely not allowed in my son’s room. But no matter what we instilled in him, none of it saved him that night. He was at the mercy of other people.
And, sadly, I never imagined that other parents were not as responsible as I am. I never thought to ask his friend’s parents about how they stored their guns because I naively assumed everyone was like me.
Since Noah’s death, I’ve learned that nine kids are shot unintentionally every day. I want people to understand that it’s very important to practice gun safety if you own guns, and to ask each other if there are unlocked guns where a child may visit or play. As parents, we do so many other things to ensure our children’s safety. We use car seats, seat belts, and put childproof caps on medicine. We keep knives out of their reach. We hold their hands when crossing the street.
Learn from my pain. If you are a gun owner, lock and store your guns properly and don’t assume kids will be mature and do the right thing. Don’t be offended if someone asks you if your guns are locked and stored properly. And, most importantly, every parent should know that you have the right to ask if there is a gun where your child visits or plays. That one question may save your child's life.
Ashlyn Melton’s 13-year old son, Noah, died in 2011 from an unintentional shooting. She is a spokesperson for the ASK Campaign, Asking Saves Kids, a campaign created by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics. National ASK Day is June 21 and reminds parents and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked or loaded guns in the homes where children play.