The fall hunting season has arrived, and more than 345,000 Louisianians will take to the fields in the coming weeks to enjoy all that the “sportsman’s paradise” has to offer.

Hunting is not only a treasured tradition in Louisiana, it is also an opportunity to teach and reinforce safe firearm handling practices to gun owners and their families. Just as the tradition of hunting has been passed on from generation to generation, so too has the tradition of safe and responsible firearm ownership, making hunting one of the safest outdoor activities in the United States today.

This current season provides an opportune time to emphasize the availability of educational resources for all of those seeking to pass on the tradition of responsible hunting. There are several local and national safety programs today, which gun owners can use to help educate their families and communities.

One successful program is the Louisiana Law Enforcement for Gun Safety Group, spearheaded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge. Through this program, law enforcement representatives visit area schools to teach students about the dangers of a loaded gun and advise parents to securely store their firearms. The group’s educational efforts have been so well-received that it just received more money to buy two additional demonstration trailers.

Similarly, more than 50 law enforcement agencies throughout Louisiana are partners with the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Project ChildSafe program, which provides free gun locks and safety education literature for agencies to distribute in their communities.

Safety efforts like these are having a positive effect. According to the National Safety Council, fatal firearms accidents have dropped by 31 percent in the last 15 years and represent less than 1 percent of all fatal accidents.

We can, however, do better. While the national accident numbers are trending downward, Louisiana still ranks No. 2 in the country for unintentional firearm-related fatalities. Secure storage of firearms when not in use is the No. 1 way to help prevent accidents and unauthorized access to them. One way to improve firearm safety in Louisiana is to publicly and frequently emphasize this message of personal responsibility everywhere possible.

Every year during hunting season, Project ChildSafe urges outdoorsmen and women to Hunt SAFE, with SAFE being an acronym for Store your firearms responsibly when not in use; be Aware of those around you who should not have unauthorized access to firearms; Focus on your responsibility as a firearm owner; and Educate yourself and others about safe firearm handling and storage.

The resources for public safety education on firearms are readily available — you can go to your participating local police department to acquire a free gun lock or to www.ProjectChildSafe.org for more information.

Steve Sanetti

president, National Shooting Sports Foundation

Newtown, Connecticut