On Wednesday evening, July 29th, three-year-old Dalis Cox of Washington, D.C. died in emergency surgery, of a gunshot wound. The “assailant” was her seven-year-old brother, who was playing with a loaded gun. Dalis is one of 48 children who have died so far this year from unintentional shootings. In a typical year, over 100 children die this way, and over three-thousand children and teens are shot unintentionally.
Such stories rarely make national headlines. They are not as “newsworthy” as mass shootings in churches or movie theaters. They seldom generate lots of energy for tighter gun control laws. Yet they leave in their wake not only lives barely lived before they are gone but the deep emotional scars on parents — and other children, like Dalis’s brother. He is also a victim who will somehow have to move on with his life knowing as an adult what he could not understand he was doing as a child.
The usual “gun control” solution — better background checks — will not solve this problem. Children are not buying the guns that kill them. The “gun rights” banner is also irrelevant. No one who supports the Second Amendment argues that it should apply to seven-year-olds. Yet, this problem should shame and enrage all of us, whose job it is to nurture and protect all of the nation’s children.
The right to gun ownership is not the issue. The responsible use of guns already owned is. On this important point, both gun control and gun rights partisans agree. As the National Rifle Association puts it, any parent who owns a gun must “absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child.” Unfortunately, this is expecting too much of too many parents.
There are solutions, which vary from the social to the legal to the technical. “Just Say No” training for youngsters seems an obvious choice, although its track record is not very good since a young child’s curiosity can easily overwhelm the rational argument of staying away from a gun. Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws which require parents to store firearms safely also have had mixed success — more so when parental violations are treated as felonies than as misdemeanors. Gun locks can be useful if designed properly, though the Supreme Court has ruled that a legal requirement to use them violates the Second Amendment. Biometric sensors to restrict gun use to owners are another option, though designing them so that fast and effective use of the gun by the owner for self-defense has proved a difficult challenge so far.
This problem can be solved, but the will to solve it through compromise must be there on all sides of the gun debate. Gun control advocates must be willing to work through the legitimate concerns of gun owners for access to their own firearms when they truly need them for protection. Gun rights advocates must acknowledge that every restriction on the manufacture and use of a gun is not a step on the slippery slope of gun confiscation and that research to study the problem of children killing children with guns, effectively banned since 1996, is not — if objective and scientific — inherently political.
All sides must also accept that a child’s right to live is at least as valid as the parent’s right to bear arms. After all, the Constitution was meant to support the Declaration of Independence. If all efforts to protect the unalienable right to life of a child are subordinated to the Second Amendment, something is backwards.
The good news is that both sides seem to recognize the need and even potential solutions. A 2014 survey reported that 96 percent (95 percent of gun owners) support “teaching children about gun safety and to stay away from guns.” Eighty-nine percent (81 percent of gun owners) support the need to “require parents with guns at home to put trigger locks or other locks on their guns.” And 88 percent (78 percent of gun owners) support encouraging people “to use “smart guns” or “smart safes” if they have children at home, which use fingerprinting or other technology to ensure that the person firing the gun or opening the safe is the gun owner and no one else.”
On May 21, a two-year old in Redfield, Arkansas shot to death his five-year-old brother, Benjamin Schrader, using a gun he found in his house. It’s well past time to make sure that guns stay in the hands of their owners and not children. Dalis, Benjamin, and thousands of others deserve that from us.