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Cathy Strode and Dr. John Muth 

The Community Task Force on Children and Firearms

The Community Task Force on Children and Firearms was formed in September of 1998 under the leadership of Dr. John Muth, retired head of the El Paso County Department of Health. Its mission is to educate the public about gun safety as a way to reduce the number of gun-related deaths and injuries in El Paso County. The task force considers gun violence a preventable community health issue in much the same way as a flu epidemic or hepatitis outbreak is, asserting that interventive communitywide steps can be taken to eradicate it. This week, Cathy Strode will begin producing a 20-minute video for the task force -- Kids and Guns: Toying With Death -- that will be presented to community groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, PTOs, service clubs, school counselors, homeowners associations, churches and school districts.

What prompted formation of this task force? Muth: I was chairing a committee for the County Medical Society called the Child's Fatality Review Committee, which looks at ways to prevent death in children. I saw that there were groups dealing with problems like premature birth, birth defects and automobile fatalities, but no one was working specifically to prevent gun deaths and injuries among children. I put together a forum in September of 1998 that addressed the issue of children and gun-related violence that was attended by around 100 people. The task force evolved out of that forum. The incident at Columbine last year dramatically underscored the need for this kind of effort.

What is the philosophy of the task force? Muth: Members hold a wide range of views on guns. We have members of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition who practically view it a sacred duty to own guns, and [we have] other members who wouldn't allow a gun in their house even if you paid them. We share the common goal, though, of reducing the numbers of gun deaths and injuries to children. We make presentations to the public to advance that goal.

What is your message in these presentations? Muth: Well over 5 million civilians died from gunshot wounds between 1938 and 1988, more than the combined U.S. war dead from every war since 1776. Over 38,000 people die every year in this country from gunshot wounds, and over 1,000 children are killed unintentionally by guns every year in this country. One out of every four households in El Paso County has a gun in it, the majority of them loaded and unlocked. We tell the adults that gun ownership brings with it a responsibility to learn to use it safely, to teach your kids about gun safety, and to make very sure the gun is stored in a place and in a way that kids can't get at it. We tell kids that guns aren't toys -- if you see a gun, don't touch it. [We tell them] if they see anyone with a gun, including another kid, leave the area immediately and go tell a responsible adult.

What is Ms. Strode's role in this campaign? Strode: Last year, the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation asked me to produce the task force's 60-second public service video that is currently airing on channels 11, 21 and 5/30. I have 10 years of experience as a television news journalist and anchorperson in Denver, Cleveland and Tucson, and last year I produced a 30-minute documentary on children and gun violence for the Osteopathic Foundation in Tucson that won a national award. I think this is a wonderful and badly needed project. It's a visionary endeavor for a town as traditionally anti-gun regulation as Colorado Springs.

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