After two years of successfully distributing free gun locks with an eye toward children’s safety, Bucks County’s Ben’s Campaign is expanding its focus.
With the help of new partners at the Lenape Valley Foundation, the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging and Central Bucks Rescue Squad, Ben’s Campaign has now begun providing free gun locks to households in which people suffering from dementia, or who are at risk of suicide may be living.
“Although Ben’s Campaign was borne out of the tragic, 100 percent preventable death of 2-year-old Benjamin Smith, our campaign has made great strides in protecting our children through this free gun-lock distribution program,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub.
He noted the county has been free of accidental shooting deaths of children in homes since the campaign began.
“By expanding our reach, we want to capitalize on that success,” Weintraub said.
Ben’s Campaign is named for Benjamin, a Bucks County boy who accidentally shot and killed himself with his father’s unlocked, loaded gun in September 2016. The campaign in his name kicked off the following spring and has since given away thousands of free locks to gun owners in Bucks County.
Key in the program’s new phase is the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging, whose leadership reached out to the DA’s office in hopes of addressing the growing issue of gun safety among seniors with dementia and their caregivers.
Bucks County is home to some 114,000 seniors, said Area Agency on Aging Director Kathy M. Bennett, approximately 51,000 of whom are estimated to be gun owners. Additionally, more than 10,000 seniors in Bucks County have some type of dementia diagnosis, and many others have chronic conditions that impact cognitive abilities.
“Given the factors of suicidal rates of elderly men, and factors such as dementia or other cognitive issues impairing judgment, we felt that the county would benefit from education about this issue,” Bennett said.
Sharon Curran, CEO of the Lenape Valley Foundation, another key partner, pointed to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Study showing half of all suicide deaths in the United States are completed using a gun. A locked gun presents a critical, if momentary, impediment to gun access that can save lives.
Cable-style gun locks for Ben’s Campaign continue to be provided by Project ChildSafe, a gun safety organization based in Newtown, Conn., that partners with law enforcement agencies, sporting groups, companies and foundations around the country.
Essential to the locks’ distribution in Bucks County is the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), whose staff has made sure the locks come with safety information, even when the demand has nearly outpaced supply.
Ben’s Campaign is sponsored by the county DA’s office, Sheriff’s office, Department of Housing and Human Services, Health Department and Children and Youth social services agency; as well as NOVA and especially police departments throughout the county.
Upcoming public gun lock demonstrations are scheduled for: 7 p.m. June 6, Bristol Township Senior Center, 2501 Bath Road, Bristol Township; 1 p.m. June 12, Ben Wilson Senior Center, 580 Delmont Ave., Warminster; 1 p.m. June 19, Pennridge Community Center, 146 E. Main St., Silverdale.