Community Education Launches Gun-Violence Prevention Campaign

March 7, 2023
Police Detective Lt. Scott Jones opened the community education session of the Bedford Safe Campaign last Wednesday with a message that “No school community, town, or state in this country is immune to gun violence.” Image: BedfordTv

“No school community, town, or state in this country is immune to gun violence.”

That was the message delivered by Police Detective Lt. Scott Jones to the opening community education session of the Bedford Safe Campaign in the Buckley Auditorium at Bedford High School last Wednesday.

“The potential is anywhere, anyone, at any time,” said Jones, by video recording. The Police Department, he said, “advocates safe storage, gun locks, public education, and removal of unwanted guns – all elements of this campaign. We look forward to working with the town to promoting gun-violence awareness and safety in the community.” 

Heidi Porter, Director of the town Department of Health and Human Services, said the Bedford Safe Campaign is one of the Board of Health’s “actionables for the year, consistent with its mission.”

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“Gun violence is identified as a public health epidemic,” she stated, noting that the Board of Health connects with the Police Department to provide awareness and programming.” She said she worked with board members Maureen Richichi and Susan Schwartz and Jones to develop the campaign, which has been endorsed by many other town boards.

The campaign is multifaceted, Porter said: awareness and educational materials; distribution of free gun-safety kits; and the upcoming buyback program for unwanted firearms.

Jones noted that within the past three years, Bedford police seized a cache of firearms, including assault weapons, from two homes where the gun owners were subject to domestic restraining. Children in Bedford schools resided in those homes, he added.

“Bedford has had a number of stolen firearms – guns that end up in the hands of those who want to harm others,” Jones said. He related other cases in which officers took two semiautomatic weapons from a resident subject to a restraining order, and also arrested an individual who possessed a “ghost gun,” assembled from a kit.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Peter Masiakos, co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Gun Violence Prevention. He said the center, started in 2019, is the country’s first gun-violence prevention center in a hospital. “We’re trying to understand how the medical community can help,” through education, research, and community outreach.

Masiakos said a recent survey showed pediatric residents rarely asked emergency patients about gun violence where they lived. So now, at the center, “we are educating our own,” where interns undergo a one-hour simulation with actors playing patient roles. “Now we have a culture in the hospital that’s not fearful of asking their patients about access to lethal means – just like you would ask about seatbelts or smoke detectors.”

“We are not going to solve this problem by eliminating the gun,” Masiakos remarked. “We have to change the conversation.” He cited the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who “changed the idea of drinking and driving within a generation.”

Masiakos’s talk was preceded by resident Dawn Kociubes’s detailed remembrances of her father’s suicide in January 2021. She said her father was a Vietnam veteran who took his own life with one of the 46 firearms he kept at home.

“My father had become gripped and crippled by his post-traumatic stress disorder,” Kociubes explained. “My mother did not know how to help him. I encourage you to protect your family from facing the tragedy and ongoing devastation our family is facing: get rid of unwanted guns, store the rest, and separate them from ammunition.” 

Masiakos thanked Kociubes, saying, “Changing the narrative of gun violence begins with the people most affected by it. You brought a personal story into this and it has to be done in order to change the culture. You can’t live a day without understanding the impact. It touches everybody.”

Dr. Peter Masiakos, co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Gun Violence Prevention was the keynote speaker at last week’s events. Image: BedfordTv

“These conversations are the thing we need to do in every community,” he added; statistics “are part of the idea on how to mitigate injuries and understand what you can do to fix the problem before the problem happens.” At MGH, “We know that guns are used more frequently than any other mechanism in successful suicides,” as well as how suicide among youth has grown by 74 percent over the last two years.

He noted that according to research, among children, especially younger kids, “suicide is a very impulsive act. It can be in as little as 10 minutes.” He added that 80 percent of people who attempt suicide with means other than a gun survive; 90 percent of those who use firearms do not.

The center has a partnership with Emerson College, developing stories and producing videos, interviewing victims of gun violence as well as veterans. Masiakos added, “We are doing high school tours to try to bring the community into the conversation.”  

Masiakos also talked about “the importance of legislation that prevents childhood injuries. I can’t tell you how valuable the legislative process is. Here in Massachusetts, the statistics are different from the rest of the world.”

Acknowledging State Rep. Kenneth Gordon in the audience, Masiakos cited the so-called “red-flag” law, which allows a person to file an extreme risk protection order if he or she believes that a licensed gun owner is behaving in a way or experiencing a condition that may make access to a firearm a threat to that person or another person.

“The police department will access the home under a court order and remove the gun,” Masiakos explained. “The owner then goes through a process of remediation and through the courts retains – or doesn’t retain – the gun.” There are 19 states with red-flag laws, he said.

Masiakos also noted that Mass General receives calls for support from other hospitals, and there are plans to partner with the Massachusetts Medical Society. 

During the question period that followed, Masiakos debated with former Selectman Joe Piantedosi, who challenged some of the data points and cited episodes of justifiable homicide by civilians. “We live unfortunately in a very violent world,” he said. “People are fearful because the police department can’t be at someone’s house when they’re under attack.”

“I’m not denying people shouldn’t have protection rights. But if you are going to have a gun in the home, you have to make it safer,” Masiakos answered, “I totally understand the fact that we are buying these guns to protect ourselves; I totally understand that’s cultural. But can you imagine storing your gun in a reasonable way if you have a kid in the house?”

Piantedosi replied that “every gun owner I know owns a gun safe. The overwhelming majority of gun owners are very responsible people. There’s nothing wrong with having programs to encourage people to do this.”

Masiakos noted only 30 percent of surgeons who own guns store them unloaded and locked. He told Piantedosi, “We have arrived at a place where we are talking about the same thing.”

Asked why there are so many guns in American society, Masiakos said research shows people are motivated by the need for self-defense. Inner-city gun violence usually occurs in the middle of the night, he said. “There’s a cycle of recidivism we are trying to understand. We are trying to solve this problem together.”

A video of the event can be found on BedfordTV:

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