Community leaders launch Be SMART campaign to encourage gun safety and prevent unintentional shootings by children

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Bartholomew County Commissioner Tony London describes himself as a survivor not of gun violence, but of “gun irresponsibility.”

His father, who was a gun owner and collector, kept a loaded .38-caliber in the house at all times. When London’s parents were away, he would take it out and carry it around like a police officer.

“My brother’s very lucky to be alive,” he said.

London was among community leaders who appeared at a launch event for the Be SMART Bartholomew County initiative at Columbus City Hall on Thursday at noon. Be SMART volunteers and representatives from local government, Columbus Regional Hospital, law enforcement agencies and schools attended the event to speak about gun safety and how to prevent unintentional shootings by children.

Be SMART is a public education campaign from Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. The campaign asks that everyone to come together to reduce the number of unintentional shootings, suicides and homicides that occur when firearms are not stored responsibly.

SMART stands for:

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; and

Tell your peers to be SMART.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office distributed free gun locks at the event. Additionally, Sheriff Matt Myers said that the agency will donate $5,000 to the Be SMART program and expressed hope that another organization or individual would step forward to match the gift. Bartholomew County Commissioner Tony London said that he would speak to his fellow commissioners about doing so.

London also said that he would distribute locks and informational literature at his business. Columbus Police Department will work to provide locks as well, said spokesman Lt. Matt Harris.

“I certainly hope we’re not preaching to the choir,” said London. “I certainly hope that someone will get this message and they will realize that they’re talking that they’re taking an awfully, awfully large chance by leaving a loaded gun accessible.”

As a gun owner himself, he uses a biometric safe to store his firearm.

Myers, who had similar experiences to London as a child, said that while some gun owners argue that gun locks will keep them from accessing their weapon and loading it quickly in the event of an emergency, this is not accurate. He then demonstrated this by removing a cable lock the same kind available to attendees from a gun and loading it in front of the audience, all in about five to 10 seconds.

He also expressed concern about a lack of training and experience among new, young gun owners and stressed the importance of taking safety classes, knowing gun laws and storing weapons securely.

“You can have a gun,” he said. “The Second Amendment says you can have it at 18. But you’re responsible for that gun. So when you leave that in a car and somebody steals it, they take it out and use it in a crime, and somebody else dies, that’s your gun. You’re responsible for it.”

Myers added that if someone cannot travel to the sheriff’s department to get a gun lock, officers can deliver it to their home, and people with multiple guns should also ask for as many locks as they need.

For more on this story, and more photos, please see Saturday’s print edition of The Republic.