That Time Dear Abby got advice from Brady -- and Ended up Telling Her Readers how ASKing can Save Lives | Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

That Time Dear Abby got advice from Brady -- and Ended up Telling Her Readers how ASKing can Save Lives

Bettina Lanyi

Brady's Annual ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day launched with fanfare on June 21st, as dozens of stories on the event appeared in newspapers throughout the country and online. On tv and radio, Brady volunteers trained in media outreach promoted coverage of the event in the news. The American Association of Pediatrics, National PTA, Newtown Action Alliance and other Brady partners distributed thousands of brochures, note cards, and posters.

In hospitals, schools, and on social media, parents and doctors were prompted to ask a simple question: "Is there a gun in the home where your child plays?"

With all of these coordinated efforts, however, one of the biggest media awareness opportunities that day occurred quite by accident -- illustrating the importance of ASK education across the board.

Syndicated advice columnist Dear Abby (Jeanne Phillips) published a question related to the dangers of guns in the home. A reader sought advice on how to ask if there were guns in homes her young daughter would be visiting for playdates, and whether they were safely stored. Phillips advised the concerned mother to avoid asking questions that might be "off-putting," suggesting she might invite other children to her own house instead.

Unbeknownst to Phillips, the column's publication landed on June 21st, when victim survivors such as Ashlyn Melton shared personal stories of family tragedy elsewhere in the media.

Melton, who lost her son Noah when he was 13 years old to an accidental shooting at a friend's house, urged parents to ask about guns in the home. "When your child visits someone else's home, please ask those parents if they have guns and if they are stored where children can get to them," Melton wrote in a feature on the Today show's website. "Don't worry about sounding insulting or overprotective. If I had asked, perhaps Noah would still be with us."

Parents who read the Dear Abby column that day shared Melton's concern. After receiving scores of letters and notes on social media, as well as letters to the editor in newspapers including USA Today, Phillips had a change of heart. Through her Twitter account and Facebook page, she published an open apology:

"I should have advised, 'You are responsible for your child's welfare," she wrote. "Part of assuring that your daughter will be safe involves asking whether there are weapons on the premises and, if so, what safety precautions have been taken. If anyone feels your concern for your child's safety is presumptuous, do not allow your child to go there."

Phillips subsequently reached out to Brady staff with a request for more information and an offer to work together on future ASK-related initiatives -- proving that education about guns in the home can be both a process and a journey. Phillips also devoted two Dear Abby columns to the topic, sharing letters from experts including a pediatric nurse and a criminal justice professor.

Kudos to Phillips for her openness to educating herself -- and her readers -- about an important initiative that could prevent many avoidable gunshot deaths, and save countless lives.