A young person runs by the Last Stop outdoor shooting range Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, in White Hills, Ariz. Gun range instructor Charles Vacca was accidentally killed Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 at the range by a 9-year-old with an Uzi submachine gun.
Photo by John Locher/AP

A common-sense conversation about guns and kids

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who were impacted by the tragic shooting death of a gun instructor at a shooting range in Arizona earlier this week. In an instant, two people became victims: the instructor and the poor girl who unintentionally shot him.

There’s a reason why automatic weapons like Uzis are so regulated in America – they are not child’s play. Don’t misunderstand me: I appreciate the long tradition of gun ownership in this country. Many of the moms and dads involved in Moms Demand Action are gun owners. Responsible gun owners and non-gun owners alike were horrified to hear a 9-year-old was given access to an automatic weapon.

“Nearly two children a week die of unintentional shootings. And more than two-thirds of these deaths could have been prevented.”
Shannon Watts, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
Even Charles C.W. Cooke, the conservative National Review columnist, said plainly, “We shouldn’t be giving nine-year-old girls automatic weapons.”

The tragedy at the shooting range in Arizona spurred plenty of headlines – and rightfully so – but the conversation shouldn’t end there. This horrifying incident should spark a national conversation about children and firearms. And, as a society that regards itself as moral and ethical, we should discuss the responsibility that adults have to prevent these shootings. 

Two million American children live in homes with unsecured guns. We know how curious kids can be. It’s not surprising that very often when these kids find a gun that is unlocked and loaded, the results are deadly. Studies have shown that children will touch a loaded gun even if they’ve been trained not to.

Additionally, our research shows that nearly two children a week die of unintentional shootings. And more than two-thirds of these deaths could have been prevented had the guns been locked away where children could not find them. All it would take to save these children’s lives would be for families to store their firearms responsibly: locked, unloaded, and safe from children.

This is a topic where everyone should be able to come together and find common ground. The vast majority of gun owners are responsible with their firearms. Seventy-seven percent of gun owners, in fact, agree that parents with guns at home should be required by law to keep them locked and unloaded.

So, what can be done to prevent the next unintentional shooting tragedy?

“As adults, we have a moral imperative to protect children from unintentional shootings.”
Shannon Watts, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
First, we must continue the discussion about responsibly storing guns. Parents who are educated about the dangers of leaving loaded guns around the house unlocked will make better decisions about safe storage. Studies have shown that parents who are counseled on this topic, by a pediatrician for example, are more than twice as likely to adopt safer practices than those who are not.

Second, there’s evidence that stronger child access prevention (CAP) laws can make a difference. CAP laws deter irresponsible gun storage by authorizing law enforcement to bring charges if a gun owner stores a gun negligently, a child gains access to it, and some harm results. Florida passed the first CAP law in 1989. In correlation with a significant public education campaign, the law worked to cut unintentional child gun deaths in half over the span of eight years. There is encouraging evidence that these CAP laws – now on the books in more than half of states – would work in other states as well.

And while most Americans can agree on this point, it is crystal clear we can’t trust the gun lobby to engage in this important conversation about the responsibility of adults to keep kids safe. While news of the tragic Arizona shooting reverberated around the country yesterday, the NRA’s campaign to attract female members, NRA Women, sent an ill-timed tweet about how kids can “have fun at the shooting range,” before quickly deleting it. And the gun lobby supports laws that prohibit doctors from having life-saving conversations with patients about the risks of gun injury and how to avoid them.

We can only hope that out of these unfortunate circumstances comes a dialogue about children and guns. The responsibility to avoid guns or to handle them safely should never be on children – as adults, we have a moral imperative to protect children from unintentional shootings. We can start by educating parents about the dangers of leaving guns unlocked and passing laws that hold parents responsible if they do and tragedy results. It’s a conversation we need to have – but it’s also a conversation in which the gun lobby refuses to participate.

Shannon Watts is the Founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a nonpartisan group that supports common-sense gun reforms.

Gun Policy, Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

A common-sense conversation about guns and kids