Compared to the devastating gun violence in our cities, the numbers of children’s deaths and injuries caused by negligent storage and unsafe firearm handling is low. If by low you mean hundreds of deaths, and many more shootings that don’t kill — the types of gunshots “only” injure in both body and mind.
The thing is, negligent storage and handling are EASY to solve. Gun violence borne out of mental illness, loose laws, drug crime, racism, psychopathic tendencies, poverty, escalating arguments, and on and on is more complicated. But keeping guns away from children and following safety measures — not just parroting them — are easy fixes. There is no excuse.
Just today, a one-year-old was shot in the head. Police believe the perpetrator was another child.
Yesterday, a boy shot his cousin while riding in the backseat of a car. He is eight, she is nine. It was a .45 caliber handgun. Just lolling about in the backseat of a car.
A few days ago, in a brilliant move to make getting shot seem like NO BIG DEAL, an Alabama police chief responded to a negligent shooting of a 9-year-old with, “The bullet missed anything vital and the child is in stable condition in a Birmingham hospital.” Oh thank goodness! Nothing vital except the skin, bone, and psyche of the child and those around him.
And last week, in Oklahoma, a two-year-old shot himself in the chest and died. “Police said the shooting was just a tragic accident.” I beg to differ. Forget that. No begging. It is NOT an accident. It’s negligence, hubris, and abuse.
But don’t worry, negligent parents who own guns! There are rarely charges filed unless a child dies. So in this case, where a girl “retrieved the firearm from the couch area and accidentally shot herself,” the dad who left the gun in the “couch area” gets a stern reminder: Do not make firearms easily accessible. I’m sure he’ll listen next time.
Here’s the thing. I know that negligent parents are negligent in many ways. Kids get hurt in many ways. But firearms pack a pretty significant punch when it comes to negligence. And somehow it’s sacred ground. You can tell me to put a heavier coat on my kid, to stop feeding him chips, to put him to bed earlier, to not let him watch too much television…but talking about firearms is somehow taboo. I call bullshit.
These stories were all about children who lived in the home (or rode in the car) with the firearm. What if your child had been visiting for a playdate? What if you had asked your friend to drive your daughter home in her car? What if your teenager was babysitting for the child who found the gun in the “couch area”?
Or here’s one. What if your son had been invited by his girlfriend for a little undercover snuggling, but her dad shot him to death instead of throwing him out of the house and calling his parents? I don’t blame the father for being angry, afraid, or even having feelings of violence. But deciding to shoot someone should not be a first resort. And in a culture that reaches for a gun first and clambers and grasps for a defense next, these tragedies — avoidable tragedies — will continue to happen.
Let’s at least have the conversations that encourage safe storage of firearms away from children. That will leave more time and energy to turn to the more complex problems.