culture promotes guns as acceptable toys. Many children play with
cap guns, "laser" guns, and water pistols. Our children routinely
see unsafe and irresponsible gun handling on television programs
and in movies. The difference between "pretend" and "real" actions
and consequences is often not clear to a child. Our children need
to know: Real guns are not toys.
need to eliminate gun violence brings us into murkier territory
filled with seemingly irreconcilable interests. On the one hand,
a gun is a tool many people enjoy having. Some use it for sport
shooting, hunting, and protecting humans, pets, cattle, and crops
from animal predators. Others like to have one at home for protecting
themselves against potential robbers or intruders, who mayor
may notalso be carrying one.
the other hand, despite our best intentions, a steady stream of
guns manages to flow into the hands of those who use them illegally,
such as domestic violence criminals who threaten or harm family
members. These guns are either obtained legally, stolen, or purchased
from licensed dealers who value profit over rules restricting sales
to minors or prohibiting their interstate transport. Currently,
more than 38,000 gun deaths are reported each year in the Unites
Statesmore than half the total number of Vietnam War fatalities.
discussion about security measures is at a standstill, deadlocked
in the opposition between two powerful, uncompromising factions.
At one extreme the public health radicals who would like to see
every gun in America melted down and the industry banned from ever
making another one. At the other are National Rifle Association
(NRA) officials bent on blocking any form of gun legislation, whether
or not it makes public safety sense. In the middle are the majority
of Americans, who either want to have guns or want to allow others
to have them, yet also hope to reduce the suffering and carnage
they cause. Beneath our political differences is a common theme:
we are all against gun violence.
of this mutual concern, we can break free of the gridlock and begin
moving forward. The following eight areas for
F I R E A R M S action can, if implemented,
begin to provide some measure of safety. Most of these suggestions
all parties can agree on.
Focus on eliminating firearm deaths among young people.
Improve gun safety features, especially
trigger locks and storage practices.
Restrict unsupervised access to guns by young
Ensure that every school is a safe school.
Abolish guns from the homes of adolescents who
are depressed or chemically dependent.
Remove guns from the hands of criminals involved
in domestic violence or other violent misdemeanors.
Maximize the availability of nonlethal protection devices.
Systematize the surveillance of firearm injuries
on Eliminating Firearm Deaths among Young People
society no longer tolerates women dying in childbirth. Every state
currently appoints a committee to routinely review birth records
showing maternal death, to determine what went wrong and what
can be done differently in the future. Nor do we accept, as we once
did, that our children may contract polio at the local pool or swimming
hole. Whenever a young person comes down with a debilitating infectious
disease, a group of healthcare providers meets to evaluate the source
of the problem. Some states investigate all infant deaths to ferret
out the causes of infant mortality.
have reached a similar point in our struggle to reduce youth gun
casualties. It is time to declare that we will no longer tolerate
the senseless loss of life to firearms and that we will do everything
in our power to understand why these tragedies occur and what can
be done to prevent them.
is needed at this juncture, perhaps more than anything else, are
"Zero Tolerance" teams dedicated to ensuring that not one death
occurs among individuals under the age of eighteen. Each team, crossing
all debate lines, could be composed of a parent of a young person
with a firearm, an NRA enthusiast, and representatives from the
medical examiner's office, law enforcement, public schools, the
juvenile justice system, social services, public health, community
youth programs, and the emergency room. Team members could meet
three times a year to review the youth firearm deaths reported over
the previous four months, ascertain why these tragedies occurred,
and shape preventive efforts for the future. The team's findings
would need to be made public, and the victims' names withheld to
protect the privacy of their families.
Gun Safety Features
number of negligent childhood poisonings dropped significantly with
the introduction of childproof pill bottles. The number of negligent
childhood shootings can decline, too, with the widespread installation
of gun safety features. Inexpensive trigger locks and storage devices,
capable of preventing young children from accidentally shooting
off a loaded gun, are already available. To increase their accessibility,
we can insist that these devices be included in the cost of buying
a gun. We can also advocate for gun safety curricula in the schools
so that students can learn what to do if they come in contact with
best solution is to insist that gun manufacturers become accountable
for the safety of their products, just as toy and doll manufacturers
are. Consumer product safety awareness can be easily integrated
into gun manufacturing technology. A simple gun stock combination
lock, like those used on briefcases, for example, would enable parents
to protect their children from misfiring. It is clearly time to
promote the manufacture of "smart guns."
Unsupervised Access to Guns by Young People
it really make sense for anyone under age twenty-one to be handling
a weapon without adult supervision? Current lawswhich prohibit
people under the age of twenty-one from purchasing handguns, but
not from possessing them—seem to imply that it does. Hence, our
first move as responsible citizens would be to require parents to
assume liability for damages, including pain or suffering, wrought
by minors who have gained access to the family gun. In addition,
communities can initiate gun buy-back programs, gun exchanges featuring
tickets or games, or toy-guns-for-books swaps. Each of these endeavors
will let our young people know that guns do not solve problems.
That Every School Is a Safe School
must do whatever is necessary to keep guns at least 1,000 feet from
schools and school events. In addition, we must convert other areas
into gun-free zones. Health facilities, public parks, daycare centers,
and all public buildings can be as purged of guns as airports are.
Many cities do not allow handgun possession without a permit; perhaps
yours would like to join their ranks. To help maintain the peace,
establish a system for handling reports of illegal weapon carrying
or discharge. Following in the footsteps of those who established
a toll-free number for reports on drunk drivers, why not operate
an 800-WEAPONS line for calls about firearms?
Guns from the Homes of Adolescents Who Are Depressed or Chemically
are now the suicide implement of choice for both young men and young
women. In many communities across the United States, more young
people are lost to suicide gun deaths than to homicide gun deaths.
The sanest preventive approach if your teenager is depressed or
chemically addicted is to obtain help and to store all guns at a
relative's or neighbor's house until you are certain the risk of
self-harm has passed. For this, no law is needed—only common sense
and a strong media campaign.
Remove Guns from the Hands
of Criminals Involved in Domestic Violence or Other Violent Misdemeanors
suggestion is likely to stir up the most controversy, particularly
among NRA members and others who claim: "Guns don't kill people.
People kill people." To counter this line of reasoning, you can
point out: "Motor vehicles don't kill people. The people driving
them do."a reality that has not stopped our society from enacting
such regulations are in effect. A prospective driver must reach
a certain age before applying for a license; must demonstrate the
capacity to use a car safely before being granted a license; must
register the vehicle; must renew the registration yearly; and must
officially transfer it upon selling the vehicle. The fees that accompany
registration procedures help pay for the motor vehicle registration
program and also contribute to the tax base, offsetting some of
the public costs entailed in treating injuries sustained from improper
vehicular use. Registration further facilitates the recovery of
stolen vehicles and the ability to trace drivers involved in a crime.
addition, several penalties are in place for abusing the privilege
of driving. These range from warnings and fines to the revoking
of licenses and the impounding of vehicles. Furthermore, because
so many people are injured or killed in crashes, all drivers are
expected to carry insurance to help pool funds for paying these
bills. Automobile insurance companies, in an effort to keep premiums
affordable and reduce their payouts, have moved to the helm of auto
equivalent regulations, penalties, and insurance requirements are
not in place for individuals who operate guns. In most states, domestic
violence criminals can buy and possess as many guns as they want,
despite their abuse of this tool. Licensing and registration policies,
as well as penalties for misuse, would certainly help control the
ownership of such firearms. Yet, just as driving-while-intoxicated
initiatives do not stop alcoholism but do prevent some of the resulting
slaughter, regulating guns will not stop violence but will reduce
the number of tragedies that occur each day.
that end, here are some options worth considering. To ensure that
all currently owned guns are registered, we could enforce laws requiring
customers to show proof of registration before buying ammunition
or reloading materials, at least for a number of years. To keep
guns out of the hands of violent people, we could tighten the enforcement
of existing dealer distribution laws. We could also insist that
all judges issuing protective orders ask if firearms are currently
in the home and, if they are, have them removed for the duration
of the order.
insurance is another possibility. For one thing, it would help cover
the $33,000 average cost of each hospitalized gunshot wound patient.
For another, insurers may be just the agents needed to inspire improved
gun safety design and to offer gun owners courses in firearm safety
and conflict resolution.
the Availability of Nonlethal Protection Devices
people keep firearms to protect themselves from stranger-inflicted
violence. If non-lethal devices were more readily available, this
sector of the weapon-bearing population might be willing to trade
in their guns for other articles of self-defense. Sticky glue, pepper
spray, mace, tranquilizer darts, and tasers do not cause permanent
injury or death; firearms often do.
the Surveillance of Firearm Injuries and Deaths
in preventing highway deaths improved markedly with the establishment
of a national reporting system that enabled analysts to unravel
patterns of vehicular injury and death. This system helped alert
citizens to the epidemic of drunken driving and spurred on the development
of many automotive and highway safety features. With a similar system
in place to monitor firearm violence, we would achieve advances
in home and neighborhood safety comparable to the progress made
in highway safety.
to Prevent Handgun Violence, 202-289-7319 Eddie
Eagle Firearm Safety Program of the National Rifle Association,
888-231-0752 Firearm Injury Prevention
Curriculum, 505-272-5062. A New Mexico Emergency Services for Children
Project designed for grades K-8 HELP
(Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan) Network, available through the
Children's Memorial Hospital, 2300 Children's Plaza #88, Chicago,
IL 60614 Not Even One (Gun Death in
a Young Person), established by the Carter Center, 404-420-3843 Stop
Firearm Injury, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics,
Victor La Cerva, MD
La Cerva 2000