In another local case last summer, a two-year-old was shot by her five-year-old step-brother. Each of these horrible tragedies affected not only the child who died, but other children who were present and in danger. One can only imagine the long-term repercussions to the children who pulled the trigger and killed their own siblings.
A 2011 study by researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston found that more than 1,000 U.S. children die each year from gun injuries. More than 350 child gun deaths per year are ruled accidental. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) puts the number much higher, at more than 3,000 child shooting deaths per year.
The AACAP says one third of all homes contain guns, and most of these guns are kept loaded and unlocked, potentially accessible to children. A gun in the home triples the risk of homicide and increases the risk of suicide fivefold. Teens are more likely than young children to commit suicide or homicide, yet many gun owners relax their policies about locking up guns as their children reach the teen years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents refrain from having guns in the house. Yet in article after article, reporters instead seek the advice of gun purveyors, firearms instructors, the NRA and others who profit by putting more guns in houses. These profiteers advise parents everything will be fine if they just keep guns hidden or unloaded. The “unloaded” gun may be the worst of all, lulling parents and children alike into a false sense of safety.
Another faulty idea is teaching children gun safety and expecting them to act responsibly with a weapon that has the capability to forever snuff out a human life in one rash moment. Gun-owning parents routinely claim their children know how to handle a gun and know never to point a gun at someone they do not mean to kill. As local tragedies demonstrate, even in good families with responsible parents and well-trained children, deadly weapons simply do not belong within reach of children. What is the reach of a 12-year-old anyway? A child of this age is often as tall as his parent and knows how to find keys, guess passwords, perhaps even load a gun. Older children are also subject to less supervision and greater peer pressure. AACAP estimates that one million children per year carry a gun to school.
Guns are not safe in the home because children are both smarter and more foolish than we imagine. Children of all ages are capable of finding hidden guns and are intrigued by the taboo of handling them. Children are natural risk takers who do not yet understand how a single act can result in a lifetime of unintended consequences.
Gun advocates hype up the claim that parents need guns to keep their children safe from intruders, but in fact, a gun is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than a stranger. The safest way to protect children from gun violence is by keeping guns out of the house.
“You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
This saying, popularized by the National Rifle Association, has appeared on bumper stickers and has been uttered by Charlton Heston. A more accurate bumper sticker would read, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my child’s cold, dead hands.”
“Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” If this were true, the death of the 3-year-old would be considered a case of suicide, and a 12-year-old boy would be charged with homicide. Guns do kill. In fact, they have no other purpose.
Another NRA slogan warns, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” I once thought this argument was convincing. I don’t want outlaws to have guns. But note that when guns are legal, outlaws still have guns — more of them, obtained more easily. So the real question is not whether outlaws will have guns, but whether our children will have guns.
To keep guns away from our children, guns must be kept out of homes and cars. I am not proposing a law. I am appealing to parents. For the love of those precious children you brought into this world, get rid of the guns. Surely you would do anything to save your children. You would spend your last penny, donate your kidney, or dash into the path of a moving train. A trigger cannot be un-squeezed, and a bullet cannot be rewound. When a little casket is lowered into the earth it is covered with dirt, leaving an empty place at the table, an empty swing dangling in the yard, and empty hearts where the music of that child’s laughter will never be heard again.
Jeannie Babb is a Ringgold native. You can find her on FaceBook or pedaling a neon green bike through the Sewanee fog to the School of Theology, black academic gown billowing behind like a sail. Send email to email@example.com.