‘If these gun locks can save one life’: Officials kick off initiative for gun safety, education

Law enforcement officials crossed state lines Friday to support a gun safety initiative spearheaded by Lake County Prosecutor Bernie Carter.

Carter said in the past 18 months there have been eight shooting deaths involved children and unsecured handguns. He decried police and the public calling these incidents “accidents” and said they need to be treated like the crimes they are.

“We have to stop using the term accident when it pertains to a gun. Never use the term accident when it comes to handgun in a household,” Carter said. He is tired of hearing that the parent has gone through enough because they lost the child they loved.

“The state of Indiana and the prosecutor’s office love that victim. That victim needs to be represented. It is and it can be criminal conduct,” Carter said. He is asking police chiefs to train all officers that all shootings need to be examined as a homicide or death investigation and never deemed an accident on the scene.

“We want every parent in every household to understand … and not be reckless,” Carter said.

Toward that end, Carter is partnering with community activist and founder of Lock it Down Foundation Andrew Holmes, the Indiana State Police, Lisette Guillen with Case Files Chicago, Prosecutor Carter’s Clergy Council, Hard Rock Casino and NiSource, among others, to bring free gun safety training and gun locks to members of the Lake County community in an easy and approachable way.

He was flanked by representatives from police departments across Northwest Indiana including Hammond, Whiting, Crown Point, Cedar Lake, New Chicago, Gary, East Chicago and the Lake County Sheriff’s Department as well as State Reps. Mike Andrade, D-Hammond, and Carolyn Jackson, D-East Chicago, and a cadre of Lake County elected officials to launch the program and talk about the partnerships that made it possible.

Carter said the office will be partnering with churches through the Prosecutor’s Office Clergy Council to get the gun safety locks into the hands of people. Often the people who need the help do not trust the police. Partnering with churches will help open lines of communication.

Holmes said the Lock It Down initiative began in Dolton, Illinois after a child in the back seat of a vehicle obtained his father’s handgun that was unsecured underneath the front seat and shot his mother in the back. The mother died.

“It’s just the trauma of a child getting ahold of that weapon due to negligence of the individual who left it under the seat,” Holmes said. “It all started right there.”

Holmes said it is not about taking guns away but about alerting the public about safety and proper storage of guns.

“When you purchase a gun whether legal or illegally, it’s your responsibility,” Holmes said.

Guillen, with Case Files Chicago, has been partnering with Holmes since the beginning. She said it was wonderful to see all the agency collaboration happening. The trauma of the shooting death of a child is wide reaching and long lasting and impacts not only the parents, but witnesses and first responders.

“They have to live with those memories,” Guillen said.

A $3.50 gun safety lock could potentially save a life. She said more entities need to dedicate funding so the locks can be available to people and initiatives like this will help.

Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis said everybody needs to be talking about gun safety, not just the police. The marginalized communities and communities of color where these gun incidents happen are often the communities that do not have a good relationship with law enforcement, he said.

“That’s why so important that everybody from every genre, every arena is responsible. When you go to casino, when you go to the car wash, when you go to church, the people who have nothing do with law enforcement, need to make sure this safety measure is being distributed,” Davis said.

ISP Superintendent Douglas Carter said as he was sitting listening to the presenters, Major Jerry Williams asked why the ISP doesn’t have gun locks available in all their posts throughout the state.

“You’ve inspired me today to take that next step and do my part,” Superintendent Carter said. He challenged the elected officials in the room who have campaign funds to make donations to a local nonprofit that can provide the safety locks to grow the program.

“I’m going to challenge you to perpetuate this idea, this notion, of maybe something a little bigger than us.

Williams lauded Carter for using his platform to bring about tremendous attention to a message that needs to be driven home in all communities.

“He’s found a way to forge all those partnerships to create what I call a force multiplier. I challenge all of us in law enforcement to use this as a platform to reengage all of our communities,” Williams said.

Members of law enforcement probably have the lowest percentage of accidental shootings in their homes and that is because they live and breathe in an environment of gun safety and gun safety practices. He said officials need to make sure the officers out on the field have that message and continue to share it.

“If these gun locks can save one life, just one, my god what a difference that will make for some family,” Williams said.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com