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Other Voices: Keep guns from kids

After the third Tennessee child in the month of May was wounded by an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot, Beth Joslin Roth unloaded her frustration.

“These kids are being injured and killed as a direct result of an adult’s irresponsible choice to leave a loaded firearm unsecured,” the policy director for The Safe Tennessee Project wrote on the group’s website.

“We know that our state has a disproportionate number of these incidents. We’ve asked our legislators to address the issue. They refuse. And kids keep getting shot.”

Indeed, lawmakers in the gun-friendly state weeks earlier had rejected a bill called MaKayla’s Law after an 8-year-old girl who was shot to death by an 11-year-old neighbor. The boy had found a loaded shotgun in an unlocked closet in his home. He was convicted as a delinquent juvenile and sentenced to remain in a youth-detention facility until he turns 19. No adult was charged for failing to secure the weapon.

MaKayla’s Law would have created such a penalty, but opponents say it threatens the right of gun owners to secure firearms, or not secure them, as they see fit. In Tennessee, if a child finds a gun and shoots someone, the responsibility is the child’s alone.

This is one area of law where North Carolina is far superior. Here, parents or guardians can be charged with a misdemeanor if a child in their care gains access to a firearm and uses it to injure or kill someone. Such charges are lodged with some consistency, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and The USA Today Network. Perhaps as a result, there are fewer such shootings here than in many states where laws are lacking or enforcement is lax.

Prosecutions in North Carolina have not  done any harm to anyone’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution doesn’t convey a right to allow children to use guns to kill or injure other children.

Firearms are a huge problem for children in the U.S. Being shot is the second-leading cause of injury-related death among children, behind car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A new study authored by CDC researcher Katherine A. Fowler says: “International studies indicate that 91 percent of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 years among all high-income countries worldwide occur in the United States, making firearm injuries a serious pediatric and public health problem.”

The average annual number of fatal and nonfatal shootings of children exceeds 7,000. Fowler’s study found that accidental shootings declined slightly from 2002 to 2014. State laws like North Carolina’s could be responsible for this important progress. Homicides are also down. The striking increase has come from gun-related suicides, which are tracked for children 10 and older. Too many adolescents who are going through a crisis attempt to kill themselves. They are often successful if they have access to firearms.

Even a toddler can pick up a gun and pull the trigger. Why would anyone let that happen? Kids and guns are a terrible combination.

— The News and Record

Greensboro

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