Over the July Fourth weekend last year, a 3-year-old girl found a handgun in the bedroom of an apartment she and her family were visiting in Lemoore, and fatally shot herself in the head. In Chowchilla six weeks ago, a 1-year-old boy died when his young sister found and fired a handgun that belonged their mother, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer.
No fewer than 37 children have been unintentionally shot so far this year in the United States, after 247 children were shot accidentally in 2016 and 278 in 2015, according to the group, Everytown for Gun Safety.
Back in 1987, University of California, Davis emergency room physician and firearms researcher Garen Wintemute documented 137 shooting deaths of children 14 and younger between 1977 and 1983 in California.
“It’s widely and erroneously believed that having a loaded gun close at hand makes a home a safer place to live. We found it quite the opposite,” Wintemute said then, as he says now.
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It doesn’t have to be this way. On the most basic level, gun owners must securely stow their firearms, and must be held to account when they fall short. Doctors must continue asking adult patients, particularly parents, whether there are guns in the home.
Incredibly, the National Rifle Association has advocated legislation to muzzle physicians from making such inquiries, and Florida adopted such law in 2011, which prompted physicians to sue.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals two weeks ago struck down the Florida law, concluding that it infringed on physicians’ First Amendment rights. An NRA lobbyist denounced the decision, claiming the court “attempts to use the First Amendment as a sword to terrorize the Second Amendment and completely disregards the rights and the will of the elected representatives of the people of Florida.”
That 11th Circuit decision ought to be the law of the land, though an appeal is possible. Just as the First Amendment doesn’t permit all manner of speech, there can be restrictions on gun ownership.
Another solution to unintentional shooting deaths would be the use of so-called smart guns. Silicon Valley investor Ronald Conway, realizing that the “political system is gridlocked,” created a foundation to find “free-market solutions that improve firearm safety” and awards grants to startups. Various concepts under development include fingerprint locks and radio frequency identification among others. The goal is to prevent guns from firing unintentionally, and to render stolen firearms inoperable.