Jan. 24, 2006 -- Oh, no. Not again.
That was what some people thought and feared when they heard the first news reports that a 7-year-old girl had been shot at a day-care center in Germantown, Md. For a moment it sounded like other school tragedies in recent years in which gun-toting students took aim at teachers, administrators and fellow students.
But not this time. The Maryland incident was an accident. Germantown police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said the shooter was an 8-year-old boy who carried the gun to school in his backpack. He was playing with it when it went off, hitting a girl in the arm. The injury is not life-threatening. Police officers said they would question the boy and his parents about how he got the gun.
Firearm accidents, especially among children, continue to worry parents and law-enforcement agencies, even though the numbers have dropped in recent years. Thirty-four percent of American children live in a home with at least one gun. The Centers for Disease Conrol and Prevention reports that 1.69 million children live in homes where firearms have not been put in safe places. In 2003, more than 2,000 children were killed by firearms, 182 from accidental shootings. Another grim statistic: More than 900 children committed suicide with a gun.
Police and gun-safety experts urge several steps to prevent such incidents:
Use gun or trigger locks.
Store firearms in places where children cannot reach them.
Keep weapons unloaded.
Store ammunition in a separate location that's also hard for children to find.
Not everyone believes that is all good advice. John R. Lott Jr. at the American Enterprise Institute says gun locks are costly and can be dangerous. Lott says if a violent criminal enters a house, there may be no time for the gun owner to get the lock off. Still, many police departments across the nation have distributed free trigger locks under grants from the federal government.
Many gun rights activists have opposed mandatory locks. They argue that while locks might be a solution in some households, they would not work in others. But as part of a trade-off for other legislation it wanted, the National Rifle Association endorsed mandatory "child" locks for new gun purchases. President Bush signed the bill into law in October 2005. Trigger locks are not required for guns purchased previously.
There is no attempt at the national level to require adults to store their guns in a safe place away from children. But many advocates of both gun rights and gun control support proposals that would give tax breaks to gun owners who buy a safety-deposit box for their guns. Besides making it difficult for children to get the guns, supporters say it would also make it difficult for criminals to steal guns from homes.
Supporters of gun rights and gun control also agree on this: Parents should tell their children never to touch a gun and to always assume it is loaded.