By Michael A. Cohen DECEMBER 09 , 2 014
It’s the kind of story that seemingly could only happen in America — only days before
Thanksgiving a 3yearold
boy in Tulsa finds a loaded gun in his home. He points it at
his mother who is changing her daughter’s diaper. He pulls the trigger and kills her.
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But what is perhaps most surreal and unimaginable about this tragedy is that it
happened again – two weeks later, again in Oklahoma, another 3year
old boy. This
time the victim was a 23yearold
man who was shot as family members handled a
loaded rifle. The child grabbed at the gun, and it went off. Two lives ended; countless
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These deaths were described as accidents, but of course they are anything but. They are
the direct result of America’s toxic gun culture and of a nation inured to the point of
inaction in ending the steady drumbeat of senseless death.
Just a few months ago, the president appointed an Ebola czar in the wake of three
Americans being diagnosed with the disease. Before that, he sent American warplanes
and military trainers to Iraq to rollback ISIS even though the group posed no direct
threat to the United States. There was broad popular support for his actions
Yet, since then more Americans have been killed on US soil by 3yearolds
than have died from Ebola or ISIS. Every day there resides among Americans a clear
and present danger — millions of guns, many purchased for home protection that are
having the exact opposite effect.
We know that having a gun in one’s home doesn’t actually make that home safer.
Instead it increases, significantly, the possibility that someone who resides there will die
as the result of a firearm. So here’s a suggestion: Rather than spend billions more on
combating terrorists that pose less of a threat to Americans than falling TVs, how about
invest the money and attention to gun safety?
No, that doesn’t mean taking away people’s guns. But here are three ideas. First,
increase the criminal penalties to a felony for allowing a child to get access to a firearm.
Leaving a loaded gun where a child can put their hands on it is not an accident — it’s the
result of negligence. Make it a serious crime. There is good evidence that these child
access prevention laws can reduce unintentional deaths.
Second, require gun safes in all homes where a child under age 18 is present. Have the
federal government subsidize such safe purchases, if necessary. Doesn’t matter how it
gets done, just that it happens.
Third, begin a nationwide public education campaign about the dangers of keeping a
loaded gun at home where children are present. We’re all familiar with the powerful TV
ads that depict the medical consequences of smoking — ones that ran last year are
estimated to have persuaded 100,000 smokers to give up the habit. If you buy a pack of
cigarettes, it says on the box how dangerous it is to smoke. Why should guns be any
different? How about a public health warning any time someone buys a gun that its
presence in one’s home dramatically increases the risk of a child (or adult) being killed?
How about public service announcements that make clear the importance of securing
weapons where children are present?
Reminding Americans that guns and curious children make for a potentially deadly mix
isn’t infringing on people’s freedom or their right to bear arms. Indeed, there is no good
reason for the NRA to oppose any of these measures — unless it wants to try to convince
us that the only thing between a bad 3yearold
with a gun is a good 3yearold
Michael A. Cohen is a fellow at the Century Foundation. His column appears regularly
in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.