Saturday, March 3, 2012

Unlock and load!

While many people would extol the virtues of guns, there can be no doubt that they also bring risks and need to be treated responsibly. Gun accidents kill hundreds of people in the U.S. each year and wound many, many more. As we saw tragically this last week in Ohio, guns also end up in the hands of adolescents with either poor decision-making ability or an outright desire to strike out. Adolescents also use guns to take their own lives.

Two simple precautions that households can take to reduce these tragedies is to lock up their firearms and to store them unloaded. Unfortunately, there is research that suggests that parents are less likely to take these steps as their children grow older.

In 2004, researchers from Harvard conducted phone interviews with a national sample of 2,770 adults about their firearms practices. Of the respondents, 392 reported having firearms in the house and also reported being the parents of children under 18. The results were sobering.

Nearly a third of the parents reported that they had an unlocked firearm; two out of nine reported keeping a loaded gun, and one out of 12 reported having at least one loaded, unlocked gun. The proportions were higher among parents of adolescents--41.7 percent kept an unlocked gun, 25.5 percent kept a loaded gun, and 9.8 percent kept a loaded and unlocked gun. However, the proportions were also appallingly high among parents of younger children--28.8 percent with an unlocked firearm, 20.4 percent with a loaded firearm, and 6.8 percent with a loaded, unlocked firearm.

Another study calculates that somewhere between 1.6 million and 1.8 million children were living in households with loaded and unlocked guns in 2002.

Keeping an unlocked gun around children or adolescents is begging for trouble, and keeping a loaded, unlocked gun borders on insanity.

It's one thing for adults to pose the risks of guns on themselves. It's quite another to pose them on defenseless children and on other people's children.