Broward News

In Wake of #ThisIsOurLane, Broward Medical Professionals and Nonprofits Team Up to Distribute Gun Locks

A South Florida pediatric surgeon, Dr. Michele Markley poses with a Lock It Up! campaign brochure.
A South Florida pediatric surgeon, Dr. Michele Markley poses with a Lock It Up! campaign brochure. Michele Markley

Jackie Rosen lost her only child to suicide in 1986. Mitch Rosen was just 24 years old. "We went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning, and he wasn't in the house. He had gone to a field where he played as a child near our house and died by suicide." Mitch had been suffering from depression and used a firearm to take his own life.

32 years later, Rosen has funneled her grief into the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention Inc., or FISP. She serves as the Executive Director/CEO and one of the founding members of the nonprofit devoted to preventing suicide through education and resource. The group's latest venture is signing onto Broward County's League of Women Voters' nonpartisan gun safety campaign: Lock It Up! Rosen says the aim behind partnering on the initiative is to minimize Florida's dramatically rising number of suicides, half of which are facilitated by the use of a firearm. "Most of the suicides that occur by teens occur right before their parents come home from work. So if those guns [were] locked up, a lot of them wouldn't happen."

Leading the Lock It Up! initiative is local attorney Barbara Markley. She heads the gun safety committee at the League of Women Voters of Broward County. The idea to formulate Lock It Up! occurred to her after reading about a pediatrician who distributed gun locks to healthcare professionals in Missouri. That successful venture prompted Markley to investigate if there was any widespread effort to make gun locks readily available in South Florida. After speaking with local police departments and activist organizations, she came to the conclusion that simple access to the safety devices did not exist. To the attorney and concerned mother, getting a gun safety message and a preventative tool to all members of the community was crucial. "Every twenty-six minutes a gun is stolen. Every seventeen hours a child is shot. Lock up your guns."

With the help of Miami's Veteran's Association (MVA) — the organization which provided the free gun locks — and her fellow volunteers at the League, who designed the brochure, Lock It Up! officially launched on September 19. Since then, the campaign has passed out 5,150 gun locks and 11,455 brochures. "We're all tripping all over gun locks — we have them in our garages, the League office — but then they go really fast." The League visited the MVA office last Friday to replenish their stock of trigger locks. As Markley's efforts illustrate, supply is in heavy demand. She reports that a combined total of 20 city commissions and police departments across Broward County have signed on, and a total of 95 organizations have pledged to promote the message.

The campaign has distributed gun locks to pediatricians, mental health providers, preschools, churches, the state attorney, public defender, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and many others. Among these, the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Veterans Association are the primary alliances in championing Lock It Up!

Judith Aronson-Ramos is the co-chair of the Gun Safety Taskforce through the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The task force formed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, which Parkland resident Aronson-Ramos says is right in her backyard. "I don't even understand how you could make a logical argument against this program," she says. "It's not going to solve every problem, but it brings forth awareness of gun safety. Homes of unsecured guns, as well as domestic violence victims and teens with suicide: these are three really simple areas — put mass shootings aside — where kids can be victims."

Aronson-Ramos is also a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. "What I've seen, unfortunately, is we're overrun now with kids who have anxiety and depression after the [Stoneman Douglas] shooting... it has caused an elevated level of social and emotional challenges among teenagers, younger kids, too, with the lockdown drills and so forth."

She suggests that counseling families about gun safety is as important a part of a pediatrician's role as warning parents about water safety and choking hazards. But the state of Florida has tried to put a gag order on doctors so that firearms could not be discussed with patients. Known as the Privacy of Firearm Owners act, the law was ultimately overturned by a federal appeals court. Aronson-Ramos says that pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics have always been very progressive in their views of promoting gun safety, referencing the association's long-term support of the Assault Weapons Ban.

The pediatrician's position points to the ongoing national #ThisIsOurLane conversation, where U.S. physicians unified following the NRA's condescending tweet demanding medical professionals "stay in their lane" by staying mum on gun use with patients. The controversial gun rights group was responding to policy papers published by the American College of Physicians condemning gun violence. In turn, doctors and surgeons shared heart-wrenching and graphic stories and images of gun violence victims they had tried to save.

American Medical Association President Barbara McAneny addressed the proposed policy that set off the NRA's backlash in an interview. “We need to increase firearm background checks … so we know if there are people who have a history of violent crimes, if they’re at risk of hurting someone else or themselves, we can look at all those factors.”

Instituting federal policy changes are obvious (but unlikely) means of decreasing the staggering number of gun deaths in the U.S., which a recently published report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests are on the rise. Supplying trigger locks and educating gun owners on the risks of firearm death and injury to children is a quicker, community-based solution, adds Aronson-Ramos.

Medical professionals and activist organizations alike agree that the Lock It Up! campaign is a no-brainer. “If you have a gun, store it safely. If you have children, consider eliminating that deadly factor from your household. And if there are any issues with domestic violence, take it upon yourself to eliminate yourself from the statistics,” says Dana Sanchez-Quist, Co-President of the South Florida Chapter of the Brady Campaign. The nonprofit has also partnered with the Lock it Up! campaign.

Ideally, the League hopes for its gun-safety initiative to gain far-flung traction, much like MADD's (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) successful "Don't Drink & Drive" missive. That's long-term thinking for Markley, though. For now, Lock It Up! is testing the waters in Broward, offering promising intent to carry on with rapid-fire momentum across the rest of the state. 
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Ayurella Horn-Muller is a South Florida native, Florida State University alumna, and freelance journalist. She covers arts, culture, and music for Miami New Times and news for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. You can also catch her work in Forbes, Elite Daily, Film Threat, Elephant Journal, and Face the Current.