Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seven-Year-Olds and Guns

Three days in a row, seven-year-olds have been in the news because of the guns around them. In one story, a seven-year-old boy shot his five-year-old brother while the brother was in the bathtub. Their mother had left two handguns lying around the house. In another story, a seven-year-old boy shot his eight-year-old sister. The gun he used belonged to his grandfather, with whom the children lived. Their grandfather kept the gun locked in a safe, but the seven-year-old managed to unlock the safe. In the most recent story, a seven-year-old boy was shot to death by his father while they were getting into their car. The father said he didn't realize the gun was loaded. All three shootings were called accidents.

Accidents, maybe. Preventable? Absolutely. If there hadn't been guns in the household, none of these kids would have been shot. For decades, hospitals, schools, television stations, and magazines have been advising new parents to baby-proof their homes by putting poisonous chemicals out of children's reach, covering electrical outlets, putting up gates to guard against falls down stairs, and implementing all sorts of other safety practices. I know. I got the warnings when my kids were little. I took them seriously. So did everyone I know. We got used to not being able to open kitchen cabinets without first releasing child-safety latches. There can hardly be a parent of a seven-year-old in this country who hasn't heard these warnings.

And yet, on three days this past week, seven-year-olds were involved in shootings in our country. Are people with guns really so stupid that they don't think they have to protect their children from this known hazard? Do people with guns think their guns are more important than the lives of their children?

It doesn't seem fair to blame all people who have guns for these tragic shootings. But it is fair to blame the millions of members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), because that group has consistently lobbied to keep the government from doing anything to make children safe from these kinds of accidents.

There is a government agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which has done a great deal to reduce childhood injuries and deaths caused by ingesting poisons, strangling on drapery cords, suffocating under crib bumpers, inhaling small toy parts, and numerous other potential hazards. But because of the NRA's efforts, the CPSC is prohibited by law from doing anything to keep kids from being accidentally shot.

There are lots of things the CPSC could do if it was permitted. It could mandate that guns not go off if they are dropped. Other countries have this regulation. The CPSC could mandate that guns have integral locks which would make it harder for kids to shoot them. The CPSC could impose standards for safes where guns are stored, to make it harder for kids to unlock them. But the CPSC has been totally banned from doing anything with regard to guns.

It is hard to imagine that the NRA and its millions of members are so heartless that they are willing to sacrifice children in the name of gun owners' rights. But for years their strategy has been to oppose any regulations on guns, no matter how reasonable the regulations are and no matter how catastrophic the result has been for the public, including children.

One day, this country will decide that protecting children is important enough that it will risk offending the NRA. Sadly, more five, seven, and eight-year-olds will probably be shot before that happens.


  1. Lee, many new guns come with integral locks that require a special key. There are many different types of safes that can be used to store guns.
    You cannot legislate to end irresponsibility.
    Lee, accidents happen. But you could advicate for more education for gun owners.
    Take the plunge and become active in the NRA.
    That organization not only advocates for, but actually has MANY gun safety programs.

    There are hundreds of thousands of traffic accidents in this country each year.
    Would you propose banning, restricting or further regulating motor vehicles?
    Maybe requiring that car keys be kept in a safe. Or that the driver's seat or a wheenm be removed when cars are parked to discourage theft or unauthorized usage by children.
    Accidents happen Lee.
    Would you infringe the Rights of all Americans because of the actions of a few irresponsible people?
    I have a suggestion for a reasonable gun regulation/law. If you don't want to own one...don't.


  2. Keith, a few years back, the automobile industry tried to avoid making cars more safe by saying, "accidents happen." But, largely due to government imposed safety measures such as seat belts, air bags, and child safety seats, the annual number of traffic fatalities has declined by about 40 percent, even though the number of miles driven annually has increased dramatically. During the same time period there has been no government safety regulation of guns and no decline in shooting fatalities. Our government can, as you point out by your reference to automobile safety regulation, make the world safer for everyone.