Gun Safety

An 11-year-old North Carolina girl shot and killed her stepfather when the gun went off accidentally while he was showing it to her. In Wisconsin, a 6-year-old accidentally shot his 4-year-old sister; thankfully, her injuries are not life-threatening.

And so it goes. It seems like there is another such story in the news every day.

I am not here to advocate taking away anyone's guns or restricting our right to bear arms. I am not even here to talk about the Navy Yard shootings and the seemingly endless spate of mass shootings we've endured lately.

Today I want to talk about gun safety--making guns safer and less able to be used accidentally (or on purpose, of course) when they fall into the wrong hands, especially little, curious hands.

Bring up the issue of gun laws, and one of the arguments you're likely to hear from gun-rights activists uses cars as a comparison: Cars can kill people, and we haven't outlawed them.  Why restrict access to guns, when it is criminals and mentally sick people who kill people?

Let's have that debate.

Yes, cars kill people, and yes, it is legal to manufacture, sell, buy, drive, and otherwise own and use an automobile. But cars kill people, and so we've taken common-sense steps to reduce the damage that cars do.

These efforts have sometimes been costly, sometimes been difficult, and sometimes have taken years to bear fruit—but we've done them. We've added seatbelts and mandated their use, and added airbags on top of that. We've manufactured car seats, made them safer, and instructed parents to use them longer. We train people and test them before giving them a license to drive, and insist that car owners buy insurance. We've cracked down on drunken driving, tightened the laws and penalties for driving under the influence, and undertaken major public-awareness campaigns to reduce its incidence. And we've also instituted punishment: My license can be suspended for infractions far less serious than killing or hurting someone.

The results? Traffic deaths have been dropping for years and, even in the years since 2005, have fallen 25%, according to NBC News. Ditto for alcohol-related traffic deaths.

So let's talk about guns. The comparison is obvious, even if the path from here to there is difficult. Let's use the power of legislative action and cultural influences to ensure that the guns we manufacture are as safe as possible and cannot go off accidentally or be used by the wrong people. Whether it's adding new safety features, having pediatricians discuss gun safety with parents, or producing effective public-awareness-focused television commercials, there is a lot we can do to ensure that our children are safer around guns.

In some cases, the technology might not be ready for wide-scale implementation just yet, but it is amazing what American industry can do when faced with governmental requirements and marketplace pressures. Making guns with fingerprint scanners that can only be fired by their owners, for instance, may seem like science fiction but is a goal that is achievable.

We owe our children nothing less.

Image of gun via Shutterstock.