Tragedy Sparks ‘Ethan’s Law’

Ethan Song
(Gunmemorial.org photo)

By CAROLYN MILAZZO MURPHY

It’s nearly 5 a.m., and I’m creeping around my house because we’ve got overnight guests.

Someone is stretched out on my favorite couch, and I’m taking pains to make coffee and feed the dog as quietly as possible. I’m relieved when I see the living room couch is free, meaning I have a place to write.

It’s still dark outside, and I don’t want to turn on the lights. I can hear crickets, and the occasional hoot of an owl. This is my favorite time to write because my mind is rested and fresh, not bolloxed up by the stuff of the day.

And I need a rested mind to approach this subject. It’s about gun safety and parents losing their son at age 15 because of an unlocked gun. It’s about a mom and dad channeling their grief into action, trying to make something good and lasting out of a senseless tragedy.

Ethan Song died in January, 2018, after he got ahold of an unlocked gun at a friend’s house and accidentally shot himself. The gun and ammunition were stored in a plastic container in a closet in his friend’s house near the public beach in Guilford, CT.

I still remember the day it happened. The schools let out early for a monthly teacher’s conference on the last Wednesday of the month. I wondered if things might have been different if the kids had a full school day.

The news of Ethan’s death shattered our tight-knit community. Two days after he died, hundreds of residents attended a candlelight vigil on the Green where his father Mike and friends shared stories of him. It was freezing that February night, but the sky was clear and full of stars. At the end of the vigil, Mike asked us to look to the sky and shout “Ethan, We Love You” on the count of three.

I just got chills recounting that part. Mike showed so much grace, leading us in a cheer just 48 hours after his son’s death. I admired his strength and composure. I know I’d be a zombie in the same situation.

Five months after Ethan’s death, the Songs organized a 5K road race to raise money for their organization promoting gun safety. This time, Mike stood atop a fire department ladder truck and looked out on the crowd, asking us to look skyward and shout, “Ethan, We Love You.”

Chills again, all through my body recalling it. Mike has such faith that Ethan is in heaven looking down on us. And when you are screaming the words and look at what the Songs have accomplished since losing Ethan, you believe it too.

But first, back to the kids on my couch. They’re here because they partied while watching Game 4 of the Boston Bruins vs. the St. Louis Blues. They know the dangers of drunk driving, so they stayed overnight on couches and floors.

I’m happy they’re here because they’re safe and will return to their families later today. It’s largely through the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving – and parents who lost their own children to DWI crashes – that today’s kids know not to drink and drive.

It took years to change public opinion and attitudes about drunk driving, but MADD did it through victim impact statements at trials, advocating tougher DWI laws and penalties, speeches at schools and education, including DWI crash simulations at high schools.

And though it seems like public opinion is never going to change on guns, the shift in attitudes about DWI gives me hope about the gun issue. I hope that one day gun advocates understand that most people don’t want to take away their guns: we just want to keep them out of the hands of children and people who are mentally unfit to prevent senseless tragedies.

Much as the families of DWI victims rallied for tougher laws to spare others the pain they went through, the Songs have stepped to the forefront of the gun safety movement. Just 18 months after Ethan’s death, Gov. Ned Lamont this week signed “Ethan’s Law,” which requires the safe storage of guns, whether loaded or unloaded.

I have a feeling that everyone is eventually going to know the Songs’ name. They want to make “Ethan’s Law” a national law, and judging by recent headlines, it’s needed. Guns are still getting into the hands of kids with fatal results. Just last week, an 11-year-old was charged with negligent homicide in the fatal shooting death of his 9-year-old brother in Louisiana.

Ethan’s Law will make it safer for every child in Connecticut to be in homes where there are firearms. Under the law, no child will be able to get ahold a gun on a play date.

As Ethan’s mother Kristin recently pointed out on the town’s Facebook page “Simply Guilford”, you don’t always know if someone is a gun owner when you send your child to a friend’s house. Your child is really only as safe as a gun owner’s storage of his firearms.

Years ago, I sent my son to an in-home day care center. The day-care owner had NRA stickers on her car, which made me uncomfortable. I suspected that she had guns in the house, but I never asked her about it. I was too shy, figuring it wasn’t any of my business.

But it was my business. My child was in her house, and so were a lot of other kids. Parents have a right to know and be assured that their children are safe when they go to a friend’s house or day-care facility. I wouldn’t send my child to a known predator or drug dealer’s house, so why would I send him to a home with an unlocked gun?

I eventually pulled my son out of that day-care because he came home with a bite on his hand, and the day-care owner said she had no idea how it happened. “Maybe he bit himself,” she offered. Was she kidding? It looked like he’d been bitten hard by another kid. Teeth marks were still on his hand when I drove him back to the house to ask her what happened.

I never went back. It bothered me that she had no idea how my child was hurt. It was clear that she wasn’t watching him, or was having other people watch the kids while she went out. She was careless, and I didn’t want my son around her. I didn’t trust her.

In addition to gun safety, Ethan’s death has underscored the importance of knowing where you’re sending your child. We all take steps to child-proof our homes when our kids are little, yet the same diligence is needed when they are teens.

No parent has ever asked me if I have guns in my house, yet it’s a valid question. And maybe Ethan’s Law will get the conversation rolling and give parents the courage to ask the tough questions.

As for the Songs, they’re just getting started. They will host the 2nd annual Song Strong 5K Run/Walk June 8th in Guilford to raise money for their organization promoting gun safety. For more info, click here: https://runsignup.com/Race/CT/Guilford/SongStrong5K.

The Songs will be present when Lamont visits Guilford on June 13th to officially sign ‘Ethan’s Law.” In addition, the couple is co-sponsoring a gun buyback day in Guilford later this month. Click here for more info: https://patch.com/connecticut/guilford/ethan-song-foundation-sponsor-gun-buyback-day-guilford.

Carolyn Milazzo Murphy is a freelance writer who lives in Guilford, and frequent contributor to this blog.

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