Thistlethwaite: Gun safety awareness is needed every day in our community and across the county (column) | VailDaily.com

Thistlethwaite: Gun safety awareness is needed every day in our community and across the county (column)

Susan Thistlethwaite
Valley Voices

Two weeks ago, it seemed like the whole country turned orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day, on Saturday, June 2. Bridges and landmarks and even waterfalls were lit up with orange lights. Thousands of people donned orange shirts and marched.

We wore orange in the Vail Valley at an event sponsored by our Vail Valley Eagle County Everytown/Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense local group.

Wear Orange for Gun Safety Awareness is a yearly event created by the friends of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago on Jan. 29, 2013, just days after performing at President Barack Obama's second inauguration. She was shot in the back and killed while standing with friends inside Harsh Park in Kenwood, Chicago, after taking her final exams. June 2 is her birthday.

Pendleton's friends chose the color orange because it is the color hunters wear for safety. Orange means, simply, "don't shoot me."

So are we safe now?

No. Tragically, no. Gun safety awareness must be 365 days a year.

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The Vail Daily ran a chilling cartoon on Thursday, May 24, of two parents with their daughter in cap and gown, holding her diploma. The daughter is saying, "I made it through high school." The parents are thinking, "Alive." It was only two pages away from the Senior Salute pictures of wonderful graduates in the Vail Valley — all, thank goodness, alive. That is not the case for all high school students in the United States these days.

Since we did the highly successful March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, in Vail, along with many around the country, led by the students who survived the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, there have been five other school shootings.

The most deadly school shooting since Parkland has recently occurred in Santa Fe, Texas. A 17-year-old male used his father's unsecured guns to kill 10 people and wound 13 others.

Chillingly, the Texas school shooter seems to have admired the two young males who murdered 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others in Colorado in 1999.

As horrific as Columbine still remains in the minds of those of us who live in Colorado, however, it no longer ranks in the top 10 of deadliest school shootings in the United States.

I find a lot of people today are nostalgic for the United States of the past. The past was not as great as many may remember, at least for some, but one thing I remember with great longing these days is that as a kid I never, ever had to fear getting shot at school.

This epidemic of gun violence in schools was no part of my childhood and youth.

It is for kids today. That's a horrible fact. After the Santa Fe school shooting, a reporter interviewed a young woman survivor of that massacre. The interviewer asked, "Was there a part of you that was like, 'This could not happen at my school?'"

The Santa Fe High School student replied: "No. It's been happening everywhere. I've always felt it would eventually happen here, too."

These students had just participated in the @schoolwalkoutUS at Santa Fe High. They had read a poem by a Parkland survivor, handed out gun violence fact sheets and orange ribbon, did 17 minutes of silence and then talked about ways to raise awareness for gun violence.

Awareness is not enough; we have to Be SMART.

You can visit http://www.besmartforkids.org right now to learn more. SMART stands for:

S: Secure guns in homes and vehicles

M: Model responsible behavior

A: Ask about unsecured guns in other homes

R: Recognize the risks of teen suicide

T: Tell your peers to be SMART

Remember, the Santa Fe shooter was using his father's unsecured guns. Keep kids away from guns in their own homes and in the homes of friends.

Unsecured guns are a big part of the epidemic of suicide. Since moving to Colorado, I have been shocked to learn that the number of suicides in this state has been increasing, and I have learned the horrific statistic that in Colorado, 78 percent of firearm deaths are suicides. Visit the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention website to learn more.

Awareness is important. Action is essential. We must act now to end the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and a professor of theology. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.