ROANOKE, Va. – Police spent time in local neighborhoods Tuesday for National Night Out, an event that’s been going on since the 1980s. But this year, along with hearing concerns from community members, police are pushing gun safety awareness in the Roanoke Valley.
The Roanoke city, Roanoke County, Salem and Vinton police departments collaborated on a new campaign that they announced Tuesday called Locked On Gun Safety. Law enforcement leaders said problems caused by a lack of gun safety are increasing in their jurisdictions.
Officers across the Valley were ready to give out more than 1,000 free gun locks. They said that was just one way families can avoid a gun-related accident.
“It is all of our responsibility to make sure our communities remain safe,” Roanoke City Police Chief Tim Jones said at a podium in front of media members Tuesday.
As this new campaign launches, police said, more and more, accidents involving guns are hurting or killing children and teens -- and stolen guns are being used in later crimes.
They added that guns should even be kept away from other adults who aren't trained in handling them and they said the statistics show these issues are impacting people of all races and backgrounds.
“I think it's an issue that we have to understand and speak to more often,” Jones said.
Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall wanted to highlight the importance of teaching these concepts to children.
“As our kids go back to school there are opportunities in the schools to have parents and students together. I think it's a great time to send a positive message about being safe,” Hall said.
Police are urging people to put guns in a safe, lock them up and, if they’re in cars, to lock those, too.
“We're naturally curious as young kids so the idea is to remove temptation and demystify weapons,” Vinton Deputy Chief Fabricio Drumond said.
Police said the two mass shootings over the weekend add immediacy to all gun safety topics.
“We need to recognize that we've got some work to do. We've got some work to do legislatively. We've got some work to do in the criminal justice system and we've got some work to do as members of our own communities,” Jones said.
Jones believes the gun safety responsibilities people have extend to situations where they might have concerns about someone in their community. He added that people can always bring those comments to law enforcement.
10 News asked Jones about what changes can be made to help keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, including children and felons. He said people need to put polarizing politics aside and come together to have a conversation about what reasonable laws could be changed.
“We even have to explore ways that we don't inhibit lawful possession and we can minimize unlawful possession, and that's just a difficult barrier to overcome, but those are conversations that we have to have,” Jones said.
National Night Out events took place across the Roanoke and New River valleys and in Lynchburg and Southside.