Photo of Krystal Vuong Wegner from Today's Omaha Woman magazine.

Krystal Vuong Wegner

Aiming for Gun Safety for Children

By Jacq Thompson
Photo by Ron Coleman, C4 Photography

Krystal Vuong Wegner originally planned for a career as a museum curator. Having graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Museum Studies, and then a Master’s degree in Museum Studies, Wegner was prepared for and excited by the prospect of working in the arts.

Life, however, presented opportunities to travel, which ended up developing Wegner’s ability to adapt and learn in a chameleon-like way. She moved to Chicago to work in an architecture and interior design firm, then later to Seattle, where she once met with renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, then finally settled on an operational role in an upscale packaging company.

Today, Wegner’s most important role is that of stay-at home mom to two daughters, ages 9 and 6. The family relocated to Wegner’s husband’s home state of Nebraska in 2015. Having time and the desire to become part of her community, Wegner became a self-ascribed, “compulsive volunteer” and is currently serving on the boards of directors for the Women’s Fund of Omaha, Stephen Center and Women’s Center for Advancement.

She also volunteers with Be SMART for Kids, an organization that advocates for the secure storage of firearms to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries of children in the United States. Be SMART for Kids was launched by Moms Demand Action (MDA), a grassroots group fighting for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence.

Firearms are now the leading cause of death of children in the U.S., a fact that Wegner takes very seriously. She felt compelled to join the organization as a volunteer in 2018, after a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida took the lives of 17 students and school staff. This tragedy coincided with Wegner’s young daughter having to participate in lockdown drills at her preschool, which led Wegener to keep thinking, “This cannot be our reality, this cannot be the world our kids inherit.”

She decided to take action and approached the Omaha chapter of MDA, declaring to the chapter leader, “I have time, I want to be able to help. Are there any gaps you need to fill in leadership?”

The approach is to raise awareness of the safe storage of guns in the home. It is a careful and inclusive initiative, which Wegner says is the best way forward to normalize conversations with gun owners and non-gun owners alike. “It is not a political message; it’s more about education and spreading awareness.”

Wegner and fellow volunteers regularly staff tables at events, offering free gun locks and listening to people’s stories of unreported incidents of accidents and near misses regarding children accessing guns. Going out into the community is the most effective way to connect and share the message of safe gun storage, Wegner says. “Children are children, and it is not their responsibility to stay away from guns. It is the adults’ responsibility to keep them from unsecured guns in homes and vehicles.”

The work is a long-term vision to provide education and support across the community to create cultural change surrounding responsible gun ownership. In a divisive political climate, this can be an uphill climb at times.

Wegner says her motivation to keep advocating for gun violence prevention is simple: “Shootings keep happening and every single one is horrific. But that is when you see the uptake in volunteers begin again. When people have had enough. We have to leap into action, organize the meetings, organize the marches, organize the events where people are looking for guidance and looking to do something, to feel like they are helping because they can no longer stand by.”

Wegner acknowledges that the energy and personal investment in the cause can take its toll, and there have been times when she has had to take a step back from her duties. When this happens, members are supportive of one another, and the friendship and sense of shared mission keeps the group strong through the natural ebb and flow of volunteer numbers, she says.

Social media platforms have been an extra boost to bolster the effort across the states and allow a kind of linking arms with like-minded citizens, Wegner says. Most of all, she says, “It’s important that we have a presence in the community. There are gun violence prevention advocates here. We have chapters in every state of the country, and thousands of volunteers. Our volunteers are not only moms; we are also dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and concerned citizens. Here in Nebraska and everywhere, there are people against weakening or loosening gun laws. We care and we will keep going, because we do not have a choice and because we do not have to live like this. Our children deserve a better world.”