One day when I was dusting in my parent’s house, I found my dad’s revolver in a nightstand. Like Curious George, I took it out for a closer inspection. Cloistered in our crime-free suburban community, I had learned to associate guns with the seedy, crime-infested street life that seemed to exist on another planet from the one where I lived. So, the danger associated with my dad’s one and only secret house weapon had given it its infamous distinction. Rather wisely, I thought, in case of an accidental firing, I went into the backyard with it. By this time, my baby sister was standing beside me. She pleaded with me to put it away. But I had been slowly cocking the hammer, hoping each time that the action of pulling it back would release its tension and that it would return it to its original and inert position. It did not.
I had also seen in movies that guns can backfire, so with each cock of the gun, I held the weapon as far to the right of my head as my arms would reach. After several cocks, a realization began to dawn on me. Only one thing was going to return that hammer to its original state. Holding the gun off to the side, I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, cocked the trigger back the rest of the way and fired into the back woods. I was twelve.
The school shootings in Paducah, Springfield, Littleton, Conyers and Columbine fired national debate over the issue of how to reduce the likelihood of children getting their hands on guns. Public sentiment seemed to side with antigun proponents who believe that introducing a gun into situations were children’s tempers flare, whether on school grounds or in streets gangs, increases the likelihood that someone could die. Legislators responded, pushing for stricter handgun laws such as safe storage laws and gun safety locks, intending to thwart a child from firing a gun. For example, if guns had a gun safety lock in the form of a computer code known only to the owner, no one, including a curious child who might find it, could fire it, as I did.
But it could be that what is intended to thwart children might work to a criminal’s advantage. For example, what if the owner not only had a code on her gun, but also conscientiously kept it out of her children’s reach? And what if one day her teenaged-daughter found herself facing a rapist, but didn’t know the code? Did the gun, safely stored as required by law, or the gun code, also required by law, provide safety for her? In fact, weren’t they the very reasons that the young woman found herself without the defense that the gun could have provided? Legalist Gary Kleck has found that according to some national polls, guns are used defensively between a quarter-of-a-million and a half million times per year, and Dr. John Lott of Yale Law School found that “storage requirements appears to impair peoples’ ability to use guns defensively.” In that same study, conducted in 1996, which stated that between the years 1979 and 1989, data from the Department of Justice National Crime indicates that risk from serious injury from an attack is 2.5 times greater for women offering no resistance than for women resisting with a gun.
But in her article, Why Handguns Must be Outlawed, Nan Desuka asks, “what of the child who has killed himself or a playmate é or the storekeeper, trying to protect himself during a robbery who inadvertently shoots an innocent customer?” Are these people criminals?
Statistical data compiled from the Texas Department of Health in 1998 reports that 15 times as many American children were killed by gunshots than in the countries of Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France and Canada combined. While children may have perpetrated not all of these, at least some were. The school shootings were not only intentional, children did perpetrate them. What is obviously clear is that deaths resulted from bullets propelled from guns. If guns had not have been on those scenes, all those dead would not have been the victims of those gunshots. Can we conscionably call these child gunmen, criminals? If not, then who was?
If adults were held criminally responsible for accidental or intentional shootings, which are perpetrated by children, adults would keep stricter control of their weapons. Perhaps rethink whether or not they should mix weapons in the same household were children live. There would be far less public clamoring to get the government to enforce gun safety or to require more gunlocks.
Nevertheless, antigun control advocates, like the National Rifle Association (NRA) like to claim that guns don’t kill people, criminals do. Yeah right, a six-year-old who shot his playmate is a criminal. It is mystifying that in spite of the earlier mentioned fact that the United States has more childhood deaths from gun shootings than several other nations, combined, that J. Warren Cassidy, ex-executive vice President for the NRA, would still claim that those who kill are criminals.
So the question of how to keep guns out of the hands of children seems to really be one of how much are we willing to pursue prophylactic measures to ensure it. Since guns can kill, we must look at the likelihood of murders committed by them. D. B. Kates wrote in her article, Against Civil Disarming, “about 30 percent of murders are committed by robbers or rapists.” We would well be within reason to ask if that means that the overwhelming majority, 70 percent, of murders are committed by noncriminals. In 1985 the FBI reported, “over 60 percent of murders are caused by guns, and handguns are involved in more than 70 percent.“
Desuka presents us with familiar perceptions on these facts. She suggests that many victims are women killed by husbands or lovers, the result of a drunken brawl, disgruntled employees, innocent bystanders or children.
The NRA’s answer to the problem of guns in the hands of children is to let them go ahead and have them. Moreover, teach children how to handle a firearm. Children could continue firearm safety education throughout their lives, and the NRA has spent millions in developing youth programs. Many elementary schools have the “Eddie Eagle” program to teach young children that firearms are not toys. After completion of that program, older kids can continue with learning firearm safety in hunter training programs or firearm safety education camps.
Adults giving children handguns? And when a kid kills someone, we blame who?
There are over fifty gun-related bills before the 106th Congress in either the US Senate or House of Representatives such as the Gun Show Accountability Act. Nevertheless, we all know that not all laws are created to protect the general welfare. Rather they are the resultant acquiescent homage we pay the most well-funded lobby effort.
In spite of the law, remember some of these ingredients é
Angry students have used them to murder their classmates.
Your four-year-old could shoot himself or a playmate.
In a desperate situation, a rapist could wrest a gun away from a struggling victim and use it on them.
A drunken, enraged husband could use it on his wife. Ninety-two percent of domestic violence incidents are crimes committed by men against women, according to the US department of Justice and 30 percent of murdered women were slain by their husbands or boyfriends é and that was back in 1996, according to the FBI.
I wonder if firearm education includes anger management because one day, you may well be the murdered victim of a disgruntled employee, the killed victim in a drunken brawl, the murdered victim in a jealous situation or just an innocent bystander.
After weighing just some of these, the final decision rests with our collective and individual conscience. One thing is clear. Guns are tools made for one purpose, to kill.
I suppose my mother was not the only parent who has developed a case of angina over finding that their child played with the house gun, but I have always wondered how many parents spend the mental energy to determine who was really at fault. Was it the child for exercising the natural curiosity of reaching for the forbidden fruit or the irresponsible parent for placing the temptation within the child’s reach? Now that I am a parent and know that hundreds of American children are murdered by handguns each year, I also wonder what if our house had have been burgled. Since the gun was in so accessible of a location, the nightstand for pity sakes, the burglar could easily have lifted it, adding to the grotesque number of illegal weapons already on the street used in gang violence and other crimes.
America, how much more evidence do you need?