COLORADO, USA — As Ginny McCarthy works, she sees the things she's trying to fix keep happening.
"The key is to say we can do something about this," said McCarthy, a doctoral student at the Colorado School of Public Health.
She paid attention when a student shot two staff members at East High School and then killed himself. She paid attention to the school shooting in Nashville on Monday morning.
"I don’t think we have a clear understanding of what is needed to address both mental health and firearms access in such a way that we can be effective and we can actually move change towards supporting youth and teens," McCarthy said.
To get closer to that understanding, McCarthy does research at the Injury and Violence Prevention Center. In a research brief published Monday in a pediatric journal, she and other researchers looked at adolescent access to firearms in Colorado.
Using data from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, McCarthy and the other researchers looked at how more than 41,000 middle and high schoolers responded to one question:
“How long would it take you to get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent or other adult’s permission? The gun could be yours or someone else’s and it could be located in your home or car or someone else’s home or car.”
"We were surprised," McCarthy said.
Of the respondents, 32.3% reported access to a firearm.
Of those, 25% said they could get a gun in less than 24 hours, and 12.1% said they could get a gun and fire it in less than 10 minutes.
"The American Indian and Alaska Native population was a group that surprised us in terms of access," McCarthy said. "Over 17% reported access in under 10 minutes."
This time to access a gun matters because research shows nearly half of people who attempt suicide say the time between thinking about it and acting on it is less than 10 minutes.
"When we look at those time intervals of access, that is really how we chose to consider those and report out because we know that increasing that time reduces the risk that a person might attempt or die by suicide," McCarthy said.
She knows conversations about access to guns and where people keep them are complicated and controversial. But McCarthy hopes people pay attention to these kids' responses and start having conversations about safe access.
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