Guns and Children

Several years ago, I, (as a legislator), received a booklet entitled, Children, Youth, and Gun Violence: Issues and Ideas.

The opening statement that this booklet was: “Each year more than 20,000 people under 20 are killed or injured by guns in the United States.” Almost immediately following that was the comment, “But too often, gun policy debates focus on the rights of adults to own guns and pay scant attention to issues of children’s safety.”

I thought, “Oh, oh, here we go again-an argument for more gun control.”

Certainly, none of us wants to see children die by the gun, either by accident or by deliberate acts. But, that, in itself, is not any rationale for more gun control laws.

This booklet advocated educating parents to protect their children from gun violence, “either by choosing not to keep guns in the home, or by storing guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition.”

When I was a young shaver, my father kept a shotgun in his little cubicle of a home office, (he actually was a laborer). We were taught NEVER to touch that gun. And from the punishments that had been meted out to us in the past for far less serious infractions, we knew he meant business, and we never did touch it!

However, if we wanted to go with him hunting, or be with him target practicing, we were allowed. In our family, we children, were never encouraged to have our own guns, though my oldest brother knew how to shoot a 22. In those days, many parents, including my own, frowned on pointing even toy guns at another person, though the enforcement wasn’t quite as strict.

This report went on to talk more about restricting access to guns by children, and then did take up the issue of “Educational Interventions to Reduce Youth Gun Injury and Violence.” They listed several programs to educate children about guns.

One was the Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program. This is a program advocated by the National Rifle Association, (NRA). I have heard gun advocates talk about this program many times. I have listened to how effective it can be. Many schools around the United States offer this program to students.

But many more schools refuse to allow students to participate in this program. Their attitude, in some cases, is that allowing this program might be viewed as support for the NRA.

The Eddie Eagle Program is taught to students from prekindergarten through grade 6. There is a motivational “big book” for the younger children, activity books for grades 2 & 3, and 4 -6, with a 7 minute video, reward stickers, parent letter, etc. “The message is: If you see a gun, stop! Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”

Gun advocates tout how effective this program is.

This publication’s evaluation: “NRA cites testimonials and reductions in accidental death rates between 1991 and 1992…but no formal evaluations have been published.”

Another program is “Straight Talk about Risks”, (STAR), from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. (You remember Jim Brady was the aide to President Reagan who was severely wounded in the presidential assassination attempt.) Certainly that program ought to get an A+ by the critics?

The evaluation: “Inconsistent and inconclusive effections on attitudes and no change in behaviors. No evaluation has been published.” (If no evaluation has been published, I’m not sure where this publication got the information to create their evaluation?’)

It is interesting to watch how those interested in promoting their agenda `use’ or `bend’ the information to bolster their cause. This booklet pointed out that “Parents are arguably the best-positioned adults to monitor children’s behavior and keep them safe from exposure to guns in the home and in the community.”

Their take on the responsible adult is one who allows no guns in the house, or one who stores the gun, unloaded, and not in close proximity to ammunition. If a person has chosen to own a gun for personal protection against intruders, etc., how effective is having an unloaded gun `at the ready’ – or for that matter, one with a safety lock? Is not the most effective control, educating the child?

The article lists a series of “Specific Policy Options” to ensure safety for the youth of America:

“Require background checks on all gun sales, including private sales, to prevent the illegal sale of guns to minors” That’s interesting. You would require background checks simply to check someone’s age? When someone who appears to be under 21 years old goes into a liquor store, does the store clerk make him/her fill out a background check form, and make the customer wait until the information comes back in a few minutes or a few days? I don’t think so. A check on the person’s driver’s license usually suffices! So what is the real purpose of the background check? Certainly not the age aspect.

And as I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again, the person who is likely to fail a background check, is not usually the person who is attempting to buy a gun at a gun shop or a gun show.

Here’s another: This was listed under what state legislatures could do. “Require handgun owners to obtain a safety license and to register their handguns with local law enforcement, similar to the system in place for automobiles, (my italics), to deter gun owners from transferring their weapons to youth.”

“Limit handgun sales to one per month, to reduce `straw purchases’ from gun stores.”

When I first was elected to the N.H. House of Representatives, some 16 years ago, I would probably have listed myself as a fairly staunch supporter of gun control… probably leaning to ban a major portion of the types of guns sold.

Since then, I have sat through many hearings on gun control legislation, and listened to both sides. I have had almost a complete turn around on the issue.

My issue is not the usual Constitutional issue that many supporters of gun owner rights espouse. But, in the greatest philosophical sense, perhaps, I do believe that `guns don’t kill’, people do. Sure, sometimes in severe domestic disputes, because there is a gun around, someone may get shot and killed. And, yes, children do get killed accidentally.

But people also die in cars every day. And why? Carelessness, inattention, etc. But we don’t ban them!

I really believe that the main issue in gun control is education-that is, for the ordinary citizen. There is no education about gun control for the criminal.

The criminal is not likely to go shopping in legitimate gun shops for his weapon. Why would he? He is purchasing it to engage in an illegal and criminal act!

Common sense, and real cooperation on the part of our school systems would go a long ways in stopping accidental shooting of our youth. I’m in favor of mandatory education about guns in our schools. Not mandatory education in how to use them, but how to act safely around them.

If someone chooses to allow their child to handle a weapon, perhaps there should be mandatory training on how to use it safely.

We could engage in banning a lot of things that are dangerous to us. Have you ever seen the statistics on how many people choke to death on a bone in a restaurant? Perhaps we need a law to prohibit the sale of any chicken that is not boneless?

Let’s tackle the real core of the problem, instead of passing law after law, banning this thing and that thing. Of course, that will mean we will have to assume more personal responsibility.