Commentary: Improving gun safety would save lives

The Kansas City StarFebruary 7, 2013 


Mary Sanchez is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

A heart-wrenching reminder of a feasible way to reduce gun violence splashed in local headlines last week.

You might have missed it because it wasn’t heavily emphasized.

Increase gun safety. Too many of the so-often-mentioned “law-abiding” gun owners in America are careless with their firearms.

A father left a loaded Glock 9 mm handgun within reach of his 3-year-old son. No surprise, the toddler reached for it. A bullet tore through his forearm, into his belly and then out his little body.

The child will live. So he won’t be part of the annual tallies that saw 600 people die by unintentional gunfire in 2010. Instead, he’ll be among the more than 14,000 people injured annually by accidental shots.

People are hesitant to pile on to an obviously grieving family. It feels cold, heartless.

But police were clear about the story. The child shot himself after an adult was irresponsible. The harm was as preventable as it was inexcusable.

A well-devised national gun safety campaign could help. And it’s more likely to happen than banning high-capacity magazines, increasing background checks or building databases to stop the mentally ill from buying firearms.

For all the talk swirling around those well-intentioned approaches, targeting people like the father of this child might yield results faster.

The sane and non-criminal person is generally more reachable than the sort of people involved in Kansas City’s other gun violence last week — people who have bought into a culture of retaliatory killings and the reactionary mindset of the person who shot and killed a driver in an act of road rage.

Increasing firearms safety is the low-hanging fruit of American gun violence.

The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre carefully chose his words last week, asserting that the number of accidental gun deaths is the lowest in 100 years. Like so many aspects of this debate, the truth isn’t quite that simple, and cause and effect are often irrationally applied.

We shouldn’t have lower numbers just because of better trauma care, faster medical assistance due to 911 and lower gun ownership rates.

The current rush to buy firearms needs to be equally matched by heightened awareness of gun safety. Make it a tough love approach if necessary, with photos of young people dead and maimed by gunshots.

If an adult wants to legally purchase a handgun, fine. But the other people who live in that household have a right to be safe from it — especially if they are only 3 years old.

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