Children Are Dying In More Gun-Related Accidents Than Previously Thought. Is It Time To Revisit ‘Safe Storage’ Laws?

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A hunters' safety class in Wisconsin.

On Sunday The New York Times published an extensive study of firearm-related deaths among children. In four states where records are available it appears that the numbers may be under-reported by about half.   This means that far more children under the age of 14 are dying at the hands of other children than previously believed.   It also means that we may want to ask our legislators to take a fresh look at so-called ‘safe storage’ laws; laws that require gun owners to have their firearms properly secured when not in use.

To me safely storing firearms in a locked gun cabinet or other secure container seems so obvious I don’t know why we should even need a law. I grew up with guns in the house and my sister and I were educated not to touch them without an adult present, but the guns were also locked up. Maybe we knew better than to play with guns, but there was no guarantee our friends did — especially some of the boys. The Times article explains that boys are responsible for the vast majority of gun-related accidents and even boys who are educated about firearm safety seem ‘magnetically drawn’ touch and play with guns.

The NRA advocates gun education for children, suggesting that safe storage laws are unnecessary if children are properly educated. Until reading the story I might have argued the same thing — educate the kids, educate their parents and we’ll see fewer accidents where children shoot other children.   However, in the cases profiled many of the kids were warned to not touch firearms without an adult present. Many of the adults were people who should have known to have their guns locked up, but due to a brief mistake, lapse in judgment or poor hiding place, a child died.

One of the major arguments against “safe storage” is that it negates having a firearm for home protection. For instance, if your gun is in a locked cabinet or drawer you won’t be able to access it fast enough in the case of a home invasion.   At least that’s been the argument of the NRA and other gun owner advocates. I hear that argument, especially when placed against the back drop of what we thought were lower numbers of children accidentally killing other children.   However, the Times article makes me think we should revisit the “safe storage” laws and that we should be asking ourselves the following questions:

1)           What is statistically more likely to happen to families, a home invasion or a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide?   Sometimes I think we’ve all seen Panic Room too many times. We need to know if we’re afraid of the right things.

2)           Adults can take responsibility for their own actions, but is it fair to let children die because the adults in their lives are idiots?

To read the original article go to “Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll” on NYTimes.com.