Some months back, four-year old Bryson Mees-Hernandez (that’s him, to the left) found a gun in his grandmother’s house in Houston and shot and killed himself. Bryson acted like a typical youngster. He found something new and interesting and played with it. What his grandmother did—allow a firearm to lay unlocked out in the open—was inexcusable, but her behavior is excused in that we don’t mandate gun safety.
Bryson’s story is not singular. Kids frequently find unlocked guns and either shoot themselves or others. The Columbus Dispatch reported there were 74 accidental shootings in Ohio involving children between Jan. 1, 2014, and June 30, 2016. Nineteen died.
No gun safety laws on the books.
According to the Dispatch, Ohio doesn’t have any child-access prevention or safe-storage laws. Why? Because lives may depend on accessing guns quickly, says Rep. John Becker, R-Cincinnati. Think of the inverse of that statement: lives are unnecessarily lost from quick access to guns.
The argument over gun safety is always a win-lose proposition. One side says we need to protect kids from guns. The other side says we need quick access to guns. Because of the influence (and money) of the NRA and its affiliates, the latter argument generally prevails. It’s as if we can choose only one winner: child safety or quick access to guns.
The NRA sees any restriction as anathema. Jim Irvine, board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, stated, “Parents are responsible for their kids. You can’t pass a law that makes an irresponsible parent responsible.”
We hold people accountable in other situations.
We hold people responsible all the time for a variety of safety issues. Look at the laws concerning cars. Want to take your three-year old daughter for a drive? Better have a car seat in the car. How about if your daughter is 7-years old? Better make sure you have a booster seat and seat belts in the car for her. Fail either way, and you be fined $25 to $75. Fail a second time, and you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of misdemeanor of the fourth degree charge, which can mean up to 30 days in jail.
Mr. Irvine is right. We can’t legislate responsibility, but we can regulate behavior. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about changing behavior. Though his focus was on integration, his message is relevant here:
“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. … So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face.”
Not all gun owners are responsible.
Maybe Mr. Irvine is responsible enough to keep his firearms out of reach from youngsters, but we know with certainty too many other adults don’t. Those adults need to be held accountable. It’s no different than placing a child in a car without an adequate restraint system.
Kiwanis takes action.
My Kiwanis Club gives primacy to kids and their welfare, and so we made a grant of $10,000 to the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics for the purchase of gun lock boxes. When pediatricians talk with parents about safety issues in the home and learn that a parent has a gun, that parent will be given a gun lock box.
I’ve examined one of those gun boxes. It’s locked by a key and takes almost no time to unlock. I suppose some will say that even the second or two it takes to unlock a gun box is too much time when your life is at stake. Maybe. But if a bad guy has that big of a drop on you, that second or two probably won’t mean much a difference anyway.
I’ll bet Bryson’s grandmother would have traded that second or two to have Bryson back.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
is president of the Downtown Columbus Kiwanis Club
Also published on Medium.
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