There can’t possibly be a sadder story than the one from Nerstrand, Minn., where a 6-year-old girl shot and killed her 3-year-old brother while she played with a .357 Magnum that had been left unlocked in a bedroom nightstand.
Strong anger mixes with intense sadness with these stories. Leaving a gun unlocked with little kids around is stupid. If you’re law enforcement, what constitutes proper punishment when your 3 year old is dead because of something you did (or didn’t do)? But worst of all: How do you grow up with the guilt of knowing that when you were 6 years old, you shot and killed your baby brother?
There’s an example to be made here, but would it do any good? According to the National Centers for Disease Control, nearly 1.7 million kids live in homes with unlocked guns. And people aren’t getting the message, a cursory glance at the news today shows.
In North Carolina, the situation is so severe that Duke University is now asking parents whether they need a gun lock when they bring their kids in for regular physicals.
Several studies, including one in 1996, have shown that merely teaching kids not to play with guns doesn’t work, even though parents who own guns often think it suffices, the study showed.
Fifty-two percent of the non-gun-owning parents believed their child could discriminate between a toy gun and a real gun, and 72% of the gun owning parents believed their child could tell a toy gun from a real gun. Fourteen percent of non-gun-owning parents, 23% of gun owning parents, and 35% of gun owning parents with unsafe storage practices trusted their child with a loaded gun. Ten percent of the non-gun-owning parents and 14% of the gun owning parents trusted their child as young as 4 to 7 years of age with a loaded gun, although trust did increase for both groups as age increased. Both groups of parents consistently trusted their own child more than another child with a loaded gun. Eighty-seven percent of the gun owning parents believed that their child would not touch a real gun and these same parents were more likely to store a loaded gun unlocked in their home. This study and others have established that parents have unrealistic views of children’s safety around guns, falsely believing their children capable of gun control (Coyne-Beasley, Schoenbach, & Johnson, 2001; Hardy, 2002; Jack man, Farah, Kellerman, & Simon, 2001). Those knowledgeable about both child development and injury prevention refute the trust displayed by the parents in this study on the basis of normal child development and natural curiosity (Farah et al., 1999; Stennies et al., 1999). Developmental theory has provided health care professionals with the knowledge that children will explore their environment. Despite parents’ perceptions, children can and do play with real guns regardless of being instructed not to.
But the situation can’t be discussed without the cloud of politics. In the debate over the D.C. handgun law, the issue of trigger locks was hotly involved. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. John Kiine, for example, co-sponsored a bill to repeal the element of the D.C. ban that required trigger locks. Opponents say mandatory trigger lock legislation will do little to curb violence because responsible gun owners already use them, and store their guns safely. They also say a gun that cannot be quickly used, loses its effectiveness as a means of self-defense.
Proponents? They point to dead 3-year-olds.
Is there any sort of answer here on which everyone can agree?