Anti-Gun Violence Group Seeks 'Ask, Tell' Policy

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - Imagine your child asking a friend over to your home to play, then you get a phone call from the parent to ask if there are any guns in your home? If one gun activist group has its way, these and other types of personal questions will become commonplace in America's neighborhoods.

Pax, a New York-based non-profit organization, has launched an all-out advertising assault urging parents to ask if the home where their child is going to play has a gun, and encouraging students to tell a school official or call 911 if they hear a classmate may have brought a gun to school or is making violent threats.

"The 'Ask Campaign' goes to parents and educates them about the facts of the number of guns in homes with children, and the fact is that over 40 percent of homes with guns have a child living there, and many times the guns are left unlocked and loaded," said Shane Kavanagh, spokesman for Pax.

"The 'Tell Campaign,' which is scheduled to begin with the new school year, aims to make students feel comfortable calling 911 or going to a school official and telling them when they hear threats of violence, such as a student may have brought a gun to school," he said.

Kavanagh said Pax believes its methods can be more effective than lobbying because it is getting at the roots of the matter - parents and students.

Pax was started in 1997 shortly after the Empire State Building shootings in 1997, where a lone gunman armed with an automatic pistol opened fire on unsuspecting tourists on the observation deck. Daniel Gross, whose brother was one of those who recovered after he was shot that day, started Pax.

According to Kavanagh, Pax avoids "getting involved with the politics of legislation, but does support such things as closing the gun show loophole, making ballistic fingerprinting mandatory and other actions that make gun owners more responsible."

"Instead of spending their money on Capitol Hill, they are using money to come up with creative, innovative media strategies and go directly to the people and amplify the issue and get the issues out there," Kavanagh said. "We can create a change in the hearts of Americans and have them do something about it without demanding Congress to do anything."

Kavanagh contends that Pax does not aim to step on anyone's right to bear arms, but instead seeks to make people become aware of the presence of guns and asks gun owners to be responsible.

"We are not out there to take away guns or yell at gun owners, but just to create awareness to say when you have a child over, by all means, ask if there is a gun in the home, like you would want to know if they would be watching R-rated movies or staying up late eating sweets or anything else," Kavanagh said.

However, the Gun Owners of America see Pax as a politically geared organization that wants to take away gun rights and demonize gun owners.

"Pax is a politically motivated organization that would rob people of the most effective means of self-defense," said John Velleco, spokesman for the Gun Owners of America.

"They formed in the aftermath of the Empire State Building shooting in New York, where it is virtually impossible to carry a gun," he said. "Certainly the tourists at that crime scene weren't able to have a gun and defend themselves."

Velleco said that even though Pax claims to just ask gun owners to store their weapons safely, their "whole premise is that all guns are only dangerous and essentially don't have a legitimate use."

What the United States needs is more guns, "so that we can be on a level playing field with criminals," Velleco said. "So next time some thug walks into the Empire State Building with a gun he is not going to be as effective because any number of decent Americans will have the means to defend themselves."