Kristen Moldenhauer knows it's difficult to broach the topic of gun safety. So when faced with crowds of parents, she always leads with some personal facts: She supports the Second Amendment; she's from a family of gun owners; she grew up with unsecured guns in her home. 

But she does think parents need to be more aware of the dangers of unsecured firearms.

Dr. Annie Lintzenich Andrews, a Medical University of South Carolina pediatrician, thinks the same. Andrews helped put in place the Be Smart for Kids campaign, of which Moldenhauer is the Charleston chapter's lead, in MUSC's pediatric primary care clinic. 

The program will roll out officially July 2.

Each of the letters in S-M-A-R-T stands for a different piece of advice. Secure guns in homes and vehicles; Model responsible behavior; Ask about unsecured guns in other homes; Recognize the risks of teen suicide; and Tell your peers to be SMART.

The campaign is a program of the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. The group maintains a map that tracks each time a minor hurt or killed someone with a gun. South Carolina had one of the highest numbers in 2017, with 16 incidents. Explore the data at

Moldenhauer said the campaign has made 1,600 presentations in about 40 states. It communicates common sense gun safety, most importantly to lock weapons, unloaded, and keep them stored separately from ammunition. It also suggests parents ask other parents about guns before sending their children away for play dates, and reminds parents about teen suicide. 

About 1,300 children 17 and younger die from gun violence every year, Moldenhauer said. About 300 of those deaths are unintentional; another 500 are suicides. 

Moldenhauer became involved in the campaign when her son, in preschool at the time, told her one of his peers had said he was going to bring a gun to school because he knew where his father kept it. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has official recommendations out on gun safety. The absence of guns altogether is the safest way to protect kids, experts there believe.

The academy also states that safety campaigns directed at children are not effective. Kids can't be held responsible for their actions, Andrews said.

"It's the adult's responsibility to take care of it," Andrews said.

Andrews acknowledges it can be a difficult subject to broach. But she said doctors have to ask all sorts of uncomfortable questions. She thinks doctors could be more direct in their approach.

"We’re kind of used to asking about sensitive topics," Andrews said. "The way that we’ve been asking the question is not the most effective."

But some people think doctors should stay away from any talk involving guns.

In 2013, dozens of South Carolina lawmakers sponsored a bill that would have banned doctors from discussing firearm access or gun safety with patients. It did not become law. 

A similar bill, which was signed into law in Florida in 2011, was struck down by a federal appeals court last year.

Dr. Eliza Varadi with Pelican Pediatrics said discussing guns with her patients simply makes sense. Parents already ask about car seats, pools and allergies. Guns should be part of that conversation, she said. 

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She started using Be Smart at her practice in April. 

"When we talk about gun safety, there’s a lot of negativity, which really only hurts kids and hurts families," she said.

Varadi said she became frustrated after seeing news of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year. She felt the medical community could be doing more to prevent gun violence.

Varadi, who has been in practice for about eight years, said for now the campaign mostly consists of a poster that hangs in her office and pamphlets that go into each new patient's information packet. It is also a question that's asked on the new patient form.

Varadi said she makes sure to ask about guns and gun safety at every well-child visit.

Moldenhauer said a presentation she did to a group of medical staff at MUSC was one of her best attended.

Doctors at MUSC could be noting the presence of a gun in a child's home in their electronic health record, too, Andrews said. 

She hopes if it's successful in the primary care clinic, she can bring it to the hospital.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.