RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Raleigh’s police chief says the city is seeing more children committing crimes with guns.
“We’re seeing that it’s trending up which is very disturbing,” said Chief Estella Patterson.
Patterson said it’s a trend her department wants to slow down.
Raleigh police say a 16-year-old fatally shot another teen on Harmony Court last week. Another teen was accused of fatally shooting five people in the Hedingham neighborhood in October 2022. And just last week, a teacher was reportedly shot by a six-year-old student in Virginia.
“We have the very disturbing tragedy that happened in Virginia just recently. It just goes again to show us that we got to be more intentional about making sure that firearms are not accessible to young people, that were securing them and that they’re not in locations where they can get to them easily,” said Patterson.
From October to December 2022, Raleigh police say 115 aggravated assaults were reported. Of those, Raleigh Police Department data showed 11 percent were committed by kids who had access to guns.
“We’ve seen over the last year that more and more crimes involve juveniles with firearms,” said William Lassiter, Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice with the Department of Public Safety.
Lassiter said children accessing firearms is a statewide issue. While four years ago he said firearms were used in three percent crimes committed by children, that number has gone up to 13 percent.
Lassiter’s division is launching a statewide safe storage education campaign.
“You won’t feel any worse in your life and more guilty than if you made a mistake that you could prevented by simply locking up that firearm,” Lassiter said.
Lassiter says children are largely getting guns from two places: their own homes and stealing them from cars. The education campaign will stress the importance of locking up guns at home and not to leaving them behind in vehicles. Lassiter makes it clear- the campaign is not discouraging gun ownership.
“What we’re saying is you have a responsibility with that right. If you have a gun in your home or you carry a gun in your car, we have to make sure those guns stay out of the hands of young people so they don’t use those guns in illegal activity,” he said.
Kella Hatcher with the NC Child Fatality Task Force has pushed state lawmakers to fund a similar program for years. In the last decade, the task force said there have been more than 600 deaths among children due to firearm injuries.
“The need for safe storage might seem more obvious to parents with young children but parents with older kids also need to recognize the risk of having a gun that is accessible to their older child or teen,” Hatcher said.
While a bill passed in the state house for a companion program last year, the senate did not take it up. That bill would have allocated about $155,000 across two years for an awareness initiative and to buy and distribute gun locks.
“When we have studies showing that half of gun owners store at least one gun unsafely, we have a long way to go,” Hatcher said.