Reedsburg seminar tackles gun safety but lacks attendance

March 20, 2019

REEDSBURG — In an attempt to educate the community on gun safety, a Reedsburg group held a seminar Monday by local clinical psychologist Jocelyn Miller, but only a handful of people attended.

Miller, who has a doctorate in clinical developmental psychology and works at the Pauquette Center in Baraboo, is a member of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“I think it’s really important for people to be aware that guns are lethal weapons, and that they are extremely dangerous and they need to be treated the same as they treat household poisons, medications and other kinds of potentially lethal things that people have in their homes,” she said.

The Justice and Peace Commission at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Reedsburg arranged for Miller to speak at Sacred Heart School after members met her at a Sauk County Moms Demand Action informational booth last summer.

Mary Williams, a member of the church group, said they decided to hold the seminar because they knew “it was an important issue” and wanted more people to be aware of how to keep children safe from guns.

Miller approaches the issue of gun violence from multiple perspectives: She and her husband, a hunter, are gun owners; she works with people who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing gun violence; and she is a survivor of gun violence herself, as she was once robbed at gunpoint.

Her talk was part of the “Be SMART” campaign, which seeks to educate adults on responsible gun storage and other related issues to prevent unintentional shootings, such as when a child finds and fires a gun, and teen suicide. Miller noted the campaign is separate from the organizations’ advocacy work.

She said she’s given the talk twice before — once at the Reedsburg library after a Loganville boy shot and killed his brother in 2017 while playing with what they thought was an unloaded firearm and once at a Baraboo church that same year.

The “Be SMART” (Secure all guns in your home and vehicles; Model responsible behavior around guns; Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes; Recognize the risks of teen suicide; Tell your peers to be SMART) campaign teaches gun owners to secure all guns in their possession — and that means locked, unloaded and with the ammunition stored separately, not just by hiding the weapons. Miller said children likely know where their parents keep things like a key to a gun safe, as well as where the guns are stored.

“Children know everything about what’s going on in their home, even if you think they don’t,” she said.

Gary Williams of Reedsburg, husband of Mary Williams, asked Miller the best way to deal with the emotional attachment some have to firearms. After 50 years of owning guns, Williams said he recently got rid of his because he’s a sleepwalker and no longer felt safe with them in the house. While he said he knows it’s important to lock up guns, “it’s like locking up my pet dog.”

“I’m in mourning,” he said of getting rid of his guns. “It’s an emotional attachment. You know, because as a 10-year-old I went hunting with my dad. I could smell the bullets after they had discharged.”

Miller said people need to take a step back from the emotional attachment “because those kinds of emotions tend to cloud the issue that these are lethal weapons.”

The campaign also teaches parents to ask whether and how guns are secured in any home their child may go to. Other points include modeling responsible behavior around guns and recognizing the risks of teen suicide.

Miller emphasized the role of impulsiveness when it comes to deaths by suicide, noting that many people say if a person wants to commit suicide and loses access to guns, they’ll find another way to do it.

“That is such a complete and total myth,” she said. “Everything we know about suicide is that restriction of access to lethal means prevents suicide. Most people who survive a suicide attempt are very happy to be alive.”