One man’s mission to prevent gun deaths – one lock at a time

In his own home, Scott Charles keeps his guns locked up all the time.

“It’s one more layer of separation between my kids and my gun,” Charles said. “People will say, ‘It makes it harder for you to get to your gun when there’s a bad guy.’ Realistically, the likelihood that somebody is going to break into my house while its occupied are incredibly slim. But my kids are always in my house.”

It’s a decision Charles hopes more gun-owners in Philadelphia, legal or no, will make.

Charles, the trauma outreach coordinator at Temple Hospital, is currently giving away free gun locks, no questions asked, to help stem the accidental shootings of children in homes with guns.

“There is no margin for error when it comes to bullets striking young bodies,” Charles said from inside a pediatric treatment room for trauma victims inside the emergency department — a room outfitted with smaller, child-sized instruments, like a smaller bed, for youthful victims of gunshots and other injuries.

Charles directs violence prevention and intervention programs at Temple. But he was deeply shook in April 2014, when a 2-year-old boy found a cocked, loaded gun under a bed in a Mantua home and accidentally fired the .357-caliber revolver at his 11-year-old sister, killing her.

“I started looking into how do regular folks get gun locks,” Charles said, noting that some are given out through law enforcement. “The challenge, as you can imagine, is or people who are prohibited from owning guns are going to be reluctant to go to a police station and say, ‘Can I have a gun lock?’”

So Charles began acquiring gun locks himself. First he began distributing them at the hospital, then to acquaintances and colleagues. Then he started making the offer on social media to give them away to anyone.

“They would pull up into the parking lot into the circular driveway, and I would walk out and hand them gun locks,” Charles recalled. “People from all walks of life, people who work for the city, people who may not work, were showing up. Somebody showed up and said there were people at her church that she wants to give these guns locks to.”

So far he’s gone through a couple hundred of the armored steel padlocks that can loop through the chamber of a handgun, effectively disarming it.

Demand has gone up as more tragic encounters between children and unsecured firearms have taken place. Just weeks ago, a four-year-old girl in North Philly accidentally killed herself after finding a gun. The girl’s mother and her boyfriend are now both facing charges related to the girl’s death.

These accidental deaths also led to a bill introduced in City Council by Darrell Clarke that would require all firearms in homes with children to be stored unloaded in locked storage units.

The gun locks have been donated to Charles by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, he said, but he’s also hoping to get grants that will allow him to buy more.

“This is a threat that is constant. Many of these guns are unsecured,” he said of guns around the city.

“I would really love this to be a city that would be able to brag, we’ve gone years without a child shooting him or herself.”