Some Sonoma County parents will find tips on gun safety in their kids’ back-to-school packets this fall.
The county Board of Education created the “Firearms Safety Fact Sheet” following the October shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who mistook the boy’s airsoft BB gun, designed to look like an AK-47 assault rifle, for the real thing.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Willbanks said she proposed the idea after hearing from constituents who wanted to know what the board could do to prevent similar tragedies. One person in particular suggested that the board distribute a guide on gun safety, the same way they do with other health issues like child immunizations, Willbanks said.
The end result is a one-page sheet that gives parents and guardians tips for how to safely store weapons, talk to their kids about guns and supervise their children’s use of imitation firearms. The flier doesn’t mention Lopez’s death but references a statistic from the California Department of Health that 58 Sonoma County children and teens died of firearm-related homicides, suicides and accidents between 1991 and 2011.
“We decided we have the resources, we have the ability to reach a lot of people, and if we can save one life, it’s so worth it,” Willbanks said.
It took months to create the finished version of the flier as the board discussed the information with attorneys and a firearms-safety instructor. They also ran a draft by supervisors of the county’s 40 school districts.
“We wanted to keep the politics out of it,” said board member Gina Cuclis. “This is all about information, safety for kids.”
The information on imitation firearm safety came at the supervisors’ suggestion, Cuclis said. It encourages adults to always supervise kids using the guns and strongly discourages modifying them.
The airsoft gun Lopez was carrying at the time he was shot was missing an orange tip meant to distinguish it from real weapons.
The county board and Office of Education can’t require districts to distribute the information, but Cuclis hopes most districts will choose to do so.
Roseland School District will be sending it out to its 2,400 students, Superintendent Amy Jones-Kerr confirmed. Mark West Union plans to send it out later in the year, so it doesn’t get lost amid the other papers in the back-to-school packet, Superintendent Ron Calloway said.
Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District has placed the document on its website for parents to read, Superintendent Robert Haley said.
“We think firearm safety and education is very important,” he said. “There’s been a number of unfortunate incidents in the community, and while they don’t all involve schools, schools have young people in them and access to educating them.”
West Sonoma County High School district will also be distributing the information.
Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels said her district is considering how to use the flier, while Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Steve Bolman said his district doesn’t plan to distribute it.
The information is also available at www.scoe.org/files/firearm-safety-fact-sheet.pdf.
You can reach Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @jamiehansen.