Two parents, one gun and a crusade in the name of Brooklynn

Darchel and Jacob Mohler lost their daughter Brooklynn, 13, when her best friend unintentionally fired a gun.

Story highlights

  • In June 2013, Brooklynn Mohler, 13, was unintentionally shot and killed by her best friend
  • An estimated 1.7 million to 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured firearms
  • So far this year, at least 212 minors have unintentionally killed or injured someone with a gun, study says
  • Brooklynn's parents are on a crusade to save other children and families from their pain

(CNN)About two months before a bullet killed her daughter, Darchel Mohler stood in the very kitchen where the fateful gun would be retrieved and played the role she had mastered: Overprotective Mother.

Her daughter, Brooklynn, had just turned 13 and Mohler visited Brooklynn's best friend's nearby home in Las Vegas to lay down some rules with the friend's single father. It was the sort of conversation that mortified Darchel's three kids.
When Brooklynn was visiting, she told him, there could be no boys. No alcohol. No going out after dark. If she ever got in a car, her seat belt had to be on.
    "I told him, 'The girls are teenagers, and we have to work together to get them through being teenagers,'" Darchel remembers. "I was the captain of Brooklynn's ship, and I was going to get her through the fog."
    She and her husband, Jacob, thought their bases were covered. But on the horizon was an issue they didn't foresee: Firearms.
    They never thought to address that one.

    'Don't be sorry -- do something'

    In 2013, 69 children under the age of 14 died from the accidental discharge of a gun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brooklynn was one of them. But another comprehensive report on child gun deaths puts that number at 100.
    It's a form of tragedy that's bound to continue, gun control advocates say.
    An estimated 1.7 million to more than 2 million children in America live in homes where guns are not safely stored or secured. And children in America are 16 times more at risk of being killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries, according to the report, "Innocents Lost," spearheaded by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
    So far this year, at least 212 children, ages 17 or younger, have unintentionally killed or injured someone with a firearm, the group has calculated.
    The latest national headline-grabber came out of Chicago, when a 6-year-old boy grabbed a gun from the top of the family refrigerator and shot and killed his 3-year-old brother while playing "cops and robbers."
    Stories like this one kick the Mohlers in the gut -- and reinforce the work they do in their daughter's memory.
    By sharing their story through the Brooklynn Mae Mohler Foundation, their Facebook page "Justice for Brooklynn" and events in their community, the Mohlers are on a mission to make sure other families don't suffer like they have.
    They are not alone in this crusade. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America launched a campaign -- the Be SMART campaign -- which specifically encourages conversations about firearms in homes and is geared toward pushing for responsible gun ownership and storage.
    And on the legal front, 28 states and the District of Columbia have enacted child access prevention laws, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which ostensibly should help prevent such tragedies.
    The problem, though, is that these laws impose varying levels of criminal liability on gun owners when firearms fall into the hands of children. Nevada is among 13 states that impose a weaker standard. There, an adult is only liable if he or she "intentionally, knowingly and/or recklessly" provides firearms to minors. As Jacob explains, if the friend's father had physically handed the gun to his daughter, he would have been held accountable in Brooklynn's death. Since he wasn't there, he was off the hook.
    Yes, the Mohlers wish the laws in Nevada had held the father of their daughter's friend responsible. They hate that people refer to such shootings as accidents when in their minds what happened to Brooklynn was pure negligence -- and absolutely preventable. But they've chosen to leave hot-potato, drawn-out political and legal battles to those who have time. What matters most to them requires immediate attention.
    The Mohlers want parents to ask if there are unsecured firearms in the homes where their children play. They want gun owners to pledge that they will safely store and secure firearms. And they want children to vow that they will stay away from guns.
    It's as simple as that.
    "There's no one who can argue with our message, and that's by design," says Jacob, a gunowner himself. "We do this not because we chose to. It chose us. When people say they're sorry, I say don't be sorry -- do something."

    What could have been

    Darchel, on a break from her job as a surgical technologist, thinks about Brooklynn and remembers how she couldn't wait to see what that girl would become.