Dresden becomes first New Hampshire school district to adopt gun storage resolution

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-02-2024 7:00 PM

Modified: 04-04-2024 4:38 PM


HANOVER — The Dresden School District, which includes Hanover High School, has become the first in New Hampshire to adopt a secure firearm storage resolution.

The decision commits the district to sharing information and encouraging conversations about safe gun practices and educating parents and guardians about the legal consequences of allowing a child to gain unauthorized access to a firearm.

Dresden School Board member Deborah Bacon Nelson introduced the resolution, which the board approved at its Feb. 27 meeting. It is based on a template provided by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun control advocacy organization founded in 2013 by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Approximately 40% of Americans live in a household with at least one gun, according to the Pew Research Center. In Vermont, the number is closer to 50%, while roughly 41% of New Hampshire households contain at least one firearm. The Dresden School District is an interstate district, including both Hanover and Norwich.

“It’s not a red or blue issue,” Nelson said in an interview. “It’s not about whether to have guns, it’s about how to keep them safe.”

She hopes that resolution will help normalize discussions around gun storage in a political climate in which talking about guns can often be challenging.

“When an entire community is having that conversation, it’s a lot easier,” Nelson said.

Hanover High School was briefly placed under lockdown in December when a photo of a student displaying a handgun was posted on social media. Although the gun turned out to be a theater prop and the lockdown was quickly lifted, the incident was “pretty scary,” Josh Stearns, a Hanover High School senior and School Council member, said.

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“We need to be addressing gun violence from every angle,” Stearns said. Stearns is the student liaison to the school board and supports the resolution.

“It’s just the unfortunate truth that no matter where you live, a shooting is a possibility,” he said. “It’s never impossible.”

Beginning in 2020, firearms surpassed car accidents to become the most common cause of death of children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Encouraging safe gun storage practices has become a priority for pediatricians.

“It is essential that we have this message delivered broadly,” said Dr. Keith Loud, physician-in-chief of Dartmouth Health Children’s. “The vast majority of our providers interact with children only once a year,” Loud said, making a strong safety campaign “hugely important.”

Research shows that “secure firearm storage practices are associated with up to an 85% reduction in the risk of self-inflicted and unintentional firearms injuries among children and teens,” the resolution says.

And while school shootings garner headlines, self-harm is a more statistically significant concern, Loud said.

“Our region skews more toward self-injury as opposed to homicide,” Loud said. Ninety percent of gun deaths in New Hampshire are suicides, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

As local pediatricians weave conversations about gun storage into their conversations with families, they also work to dispel myths about warning signs and the ability to predict when someone will experience a crisis.

“Warning signs, even subtle ones, are almost non-existent,” Loud said. “Adolescents act in the moment, and the greater availability of guns means greater opportunity,” he said.

But the efforts to thwart impulsive attempts at self harm can save lives.

Some “90% of people who survive a suicide attempt, or whose attempt is interrupted, do not go on to die by suicide,” Dr. Rebecca Bell, a critical care pediatrician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, said in an interview.

“We can’t predict when someone might have a moment of crisis, but we can prevent them from dying during one,” she said, by restricting access to lethal means of harm.

The most effective way to safely store firearms is to keep guns unloaded, locked and in a separate location from ammunition, which should also be locked, according to Everytown’s Be SMART gun storage awareness program.

Many manufacturers include cable locks with the purchase of their firearms, and they are often available at no or minimal cost from health care providers, public libraries, police departments and gun shops.

“Unfortunately, teenagers are savvy,” Loud said. They can sometimes find their way into locked guns, so gun owners may consider off-site, or out-of-home storage for a period of time if necessary.

That type of storage can be arranged through gun shops and private storage companies. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont provides information on gun storage locations and where to find the locks.

Bell said that the discussion should be directed at adults, rather than placing the burden of gun safety on children and adolescents. “I think it is really important that the communication be clear that it is the adult that is responsible for safe storage in the home,” she said.

Dresden’s resolution aims to remind parents and guardians of that responsibility.

Stearns pointed to the case of a Michigan school shooter whose parents were charged with allowing their 15-year-old son access to a firearm, which he used to kill four people in a 2021 mass shooting outside Detroit.

James and Jennifer Crumbly, the parents of the shooter, were both convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year. They had given their son a handgun as a gift just days before the shooting, and though the gun came with a cable lock, it had not been used.

In January, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource designed to help school administrators communicate with parents and families about the importance of safe firearm storage. The release coincided with the announcement of an initiative by the Biden-Harris Administration to promote gun safety and secure storage.

Four school districts in Vermont, Essex Westford, Champlain Valley, Mt. Mansfield and Maple Run, have also adopted safe firearms storage resolutions into their district policies, Eva Gonzalez, a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety, said in an email.

“It’s wonderful” that these discussions are taking place in schools, Loud said, noting that they are helping communities “create a safe world for (students) to grow up in.”

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 988 or 1-800-273-8255. The New Hampshire Rapid Response Access Point, the local mobile crisis response clinician teams for people in crisis in the state, can be reached by phone at 833-710-6477 or online at NH988.com. YouthLine can be reached by call ing 877-968-8491 or by texting teen2teen to 839863. A crisis text line can be reached by texting HELLO to 741741.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.

CORRECTION: Dr. Keith Loud is physician-in-chief of Dartmouth Health Children’s. A previous version of this story misstated his title.