ST. LOUIS — In less than a month, nine children in St. Louis ages 17 and under have been hurt or killed by gun violence, according to St Louis police.
We’ve plotted where we’ve seen some of our youngest victims. Since the start of the year, police say 22 children in our city have suffered.
“Why do you think this keeps happening?" asked 5 On Your Side Senior Investigative Reporter Paula Vasan.
“I think because people just aren't informed," said Dominique Newton, a manager at the St. Louis Public Library.
He said he wants to be part of the solution to gun violence.
“Twist, and now you’ve got a locked gun," he said, demonstrating how a gun lock works.
He grew up with guns at home.
“My dad, he actually was a police officer for 27 years," he said.
He said he remembers seemingly countless lessons on gun safety.
“I know how important this is," he said.
Along with books, he said he now has a new passion that's serving the community: gun locks.
Among the five of 16 public library branches around the city that offer them, he estimates they’ve distributed more than 7,000 free locks, the majority of them given to parents and grandparents. It’s thanks to funding from a local nonprofit.
“It's saving lives," he said.
He said a gun lock takes about four seconds to put on a gun, preventing someone from pulling the trigger. By distributing them for free at certain libraries around the city, he said his community is stemming a serious epidemic: children getting their hands on guns.
The impact is widespread.
“Because right behind me, a young man, 16 years old, was gunned down," said Alderman James Page St. Louis, 5th Ward.
Page said children in his community are gaining access to guns, often owned by their parents or other adults who leave them out, unlocked and loaded. He wants to see stricter penalties for people who improperly store guns. Right now, 21 states and Washington DC impose penalties for people who leave firearms unattended and knew or should have known children could access them, according to the Giffords Law Center, a national public interest law center. Missouri is not one of those states.
Page emphasizes prevention.
“Guns are not the way to solve grievances," said Page.
But he said many people in his community believe they are.
“What are you doing in your community to make sure people feel safer so that they don't feel a need to carry a gun?” asked Vasan.
“Having conversations with people," said Page.
He said he's working to increase the police presence in certain areas. He’s also working with neighborhood groups to elect young people as so-called “ambassadors” of their communities to prevent crime.
“We're trying to keep peace," said Page.
He’s also directing people to their local library, where four seconds and the turn of a key could mean the difference between life and death.
“You kind of have no excuse for not having a gun lock right now," said Dominique.
The gun locks at the St. Louis Public Library branches are provided by Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice, a local nonprofit. One of the group's main efforts is the Lock It for Love program.
Five of the 16 St. Louis Public Library locations offer free gun locks to anyone who wants one. Those locations include the Baden, Cabanne, Central, Divoll and Julia Davis libraries.