After Two Young Students Brought Weapons To A Colorado Springs School Within A Week, People Are Asking How To Keep Guns Away From Kids

October 3, 2019
Whistling Pines Gun Club sales associate David Sweatt recommends a two-lock storage system for firearms. Here he presents a common pistol lockbox design.Whistling Pines Gun Club sales associate David Sweatt recommends a two-lock storage system for firearms. Here he presents a common pistol lockbox design.Dan Boyce/CPR News
Whistling Pines Gun Club sales associate David Sweatt recommends a two-lock storage system for firearms. Here he presents a common pistol lockbox design.

In the space of less than a week, two students brought weapons to Falcon Elementary School of Technology near Colorado Springs.

On Sept. 26, a first-grade student brought a small caliber handgun to the school. Then on Monday, officials said a student brought a “realistic-looking toy pellet gun to campus.” 

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the two incidents, said situations like these are unusual, especially for the age group. 

In statements on the school’s website, District 49 Director of Communications David Nancarrow said in both instances that the district does not believe the student intended to threaten or harm anyone.

“We take these matters very seriously,” Nancarrow wrote about Monday’s pellet gun incident. “Administrators are working with (the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office) to determine the appropriate steps for the student involved.

The Thursday episode began when the first-grader showed a staff member a single bullet. The district said the staff member alerted security, who removed the student from class and found the gun in the student’s backpack, loaded with a single round of the wrong caliber. 

These events came days after a Colorado Springs mother pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal child abuse following the death of her two-year-old son from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Parents waiting to pick up their kids at the Falcon Elementary Monday afternoon reflected positively on how the school handled the first-grade student bringing the handgun.

“I think they did a good job,” said Falcon kindergarten parent Cynthia Kisel. “Because when I picked my son up he had no idea it even happened, so they actually had to have taken care of it pretty quickly.” 

Kids’ access to firearms is not an issue localized to this school, this city or this state.

The American Association of Pediatrics says that for children ages 5 to 14, unintentional firearm injuries are 10 times higher in the United States than other high-income countries. And a 2015 study published in the Journal of Urban Health estimated that some 7 percent of U.S. households with children contain a loaded gun that is not locked up.

In Colorado, while adults can be held responsible if a child gets ahold of their gun, there is no law for how a firearm must be stored.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Falcon Elementary School near Colorado Springs on Sept. 30th, 2019.

Colorado lawmakers passed a red flag gun bill earlier this year, allowing a family member or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove someone’s guns for up to a year. Before that, the last firearm restriction measure to pass the legislature was in 2013. 

While lawmakers have not debated legislation to mandate gun storage, after the STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch, where the shooters retrieved their weapon after breaking into a home safe, some lawmakers have said it’s a topic the legislature should consider. 

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry estimates about a million children bring guns to school every year in the U.S.

Emmy Betz, an emergency physician at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who focuses on firearm injury prevention, said a central tenet of responsible firearm ownership is preventing access to that weapon to kids and other unauthorized people.

“We know that kids are curious, kids are often impulsive, their brains are not fully formed,” Betz said. “As adults, one of the things we need to be doing is making sure that they don’t have access to dangerous things.

“It can be with a trigger lock, a cable lock. There are lots of different ways to do that. But the main thing is it shouldn't just be hidden somewhere,” she said.

At the Whistling Pines Gun Club in Colorado Springs, sales associate David Sweatt even recommended a two-lock approach for gun storage in homes with small children. He said the two-lock system was something drilled into his mind during his time in the military.

“When we had (our weapons) in cold storage, there was a vault lock and then there was a lock out of that locked the building that (they) were located in,” Sweatt said.

In the example of a handgun, Sweatt suggested keeping the gun in a lockbox and then keeping that box inside of a safe.

A survey released this week from American Public Media shows more than three-quarters of Americans support mandating locked gun storage, including nearly 7 in 10 Republicans and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats.

Idling in her car outside Falcon Elementary on Monday afternoon, parent Jamie Colclasure said she firmly believes in meeting a family before sending her child to play in that home.

“I would hope that most parents take that approach and keep their weapons locked up and make sure their children know safety. It really doesn't keep me from sending him to someone's house as long as I know the parents and kind of get a feel if I trust them or not,” Colclasure said.