Here's a question a lot of Americans have been pondering over the last several years: When does a person's right to live freely outweigh another person's right to own and fire a gun? An even better question might be: When does a toddler's right to grow up without the burden of accidentally injuring or killing another person, or oneself, outweigh a parent's right to inflict a merciless gun culture onto their child? Putting aside the horrors of mass murder committed by despicable individuals, and putting aside the heinous crimes committed by militant police forces (the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are two of over 500 people killed by cops as of July 2016), there is an ever-growing danger of the ways guns are mishandled in American homes (and cars), and children are by far the biggest losers in the gamble.
Back in October, just five days after my last column on guns in this space, the Washington Post published an article titled 'People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year' whose author reported that "at least 43 instances of someday being shot by a toddler 3 or younger. In 31 of those 43 cases, a toddler found a gun and shot himself or herself." This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to those of us who live in the U.S.; after all, with social media and the internet, we now hear about all of those small, unreported or locally reported incidents that might have otherwise gone unnoticed on a national scale before we had breaking news at our fingertips. But now that we do, we're aware when a toddler plays a role in her mother's accidental gun death, or her brother or sister's death, or their own death. We read the headlines on Facebook that link to stories about a 'pro-gun Florida mom' who was 'accidentally shot by her son after leaving a loaded weapon in car' and who's known for 'bragging about how her child 'gets jacked up' for target practice.' Just searching the words "toddler shoots" leads to this Google autofill, which has nearly a million related articles:
Gun rights activists claim that enforcing restrictions and creating tighter gun laws won't help resolve or assuage these dire and habitual hazards. (As of May, toddlers had shot at least 23 people in the U.S.) For instance, only 18 states have child-access prevention laws, meaning that in other states, a parent may not have any legal responsibility to keep a gun locked up and out of children's hands. This was a point of concern in an article that just ran on America's Independence Day -- a day revered by gun-happy patriots -- in the Kansas City Star, which reported that 'at least six Kansas City toddlers have found a gun and wounded or killed someone since 2013' and noting that 'Kansas saw at least one fatal toddler shooting in 2015 — a year in which more Americans were killed by toddlers than by Islamic terrorists.' The irony of this story is that by the day's end, a new story out of Kansas City was running with the lede "A fun night of fireworks ended after a teenager was hit by celebratory gunfire," which mentioned that "KCPD said they are frustrated, especially since they said they spent two days last week going door-to-door, speaking with families about the dangers of celebratory gunfire." It's pretty hard to imagine gun control NOT having a positive impact when even the most patriotic, Second Amendment gun lovers among us are apparently incapable of following police orders after they've been delivered in person, straight to their front door.
And in case you think this behavior at and around the home doesn't affect kids at school, The Trace is running an article this week with the headline 'Students Were Caught With Guns In School At Least 269 Times This Year' and the sub-header 'That’s more than once per school day.' In the article we learn that "kids brought firearms onto school property in states with both strict and lax gun laws, and high and low gun ownership rates." The public information officer at the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department is quoted as saying that "kids who bring guns to school are desensitized to guns because of their ubiquity in American pop culture," and yet every day, we're bombarded with gun rhetoric that asserts that gun culture is FINE, everything is FINE, your kids will be FINE, even as the steady increase in shootings and accidental killings continues to rise.
Oftentimes, when I read a story about a #GunFAIL, as they're called online by the journalist David Waldman, I come across a tidbit about how the parent / gun owner wasn't charged, and officers are "investigating whether or not to file charges," which never actually come to fruition. It's no wonder so many kids grow up seeped in "gun-positive" culture when their parents don't feel an urgency to keep their guns locked up, and officers don't charge them when something goes terribly wrong. In fact, gun lovers are so enamored with their Second Amendment rights, they've taken to naming their children after guns, which we saw in an example in last week's 'Yoonique Baby Names' column. After that column ran, someone sent me this tweet:
If you grow up with a name like 'Remington' and you have brothers named 'Colt' and 'Wesson,' you probably began life as a toddler with a fondness for guns. If your parents take you to gun ranges, gun shows, and on hunting expeditions, you'll almost certainly grow up thinking that guns are for everybody. Not just for responsible adults who pass a background check and are required by law to keep their guns locked up -- but for *everybody.* I can't count the number of submissions people have sent me that just feature small kids holding guns, many of which were sentimental gifts from their parents and grandparents. Some families even set up professional photo shoots that illustrate a strategic mix of American passions: patriotism, guns, a love of deadly weaponry, and above all, the idea that guns exist to "protect one's family." Here's a frame-worthy picture someone sent me that was posted on Facebook:
If you live in a rural region, or even a semi-rural region, you probably know someone who has a photo like this or something similar. Babies are frequently posed with guns in professional pictures, or -- evidently -- given fake guns to chew on, because what could be cuter than a baby who looks like she's about to blow her brains out with a toy gun that's made to look real?
Perhaps the most preposterous suggestion of all comes from gun nuts who are convinced that parents need to possess firearms to protect their families. Aside from numerous studies that have shown that having a gun in the home increases a person's chance of being shot and of shooting another person (domestic violence being a main factor here), it's also simply untrue that parents who are anti-gun reform are incapable of hurting themselves or their families. More than 60% of people in the U.S. who die from guns die by suicide. And if a person is potentially mentally unstable enough to be suicidal, he or she is certainly unstable enough to call a family meeting and terrorize their own children by murdering them in their own home or in the street, as evidenced by the recent story about Christy Sheats out of Texas. Sheats was a known gun rights proponent who had posted in March on her Facebook page: "It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.”
Even more disturbing to me are the comments I read on Facebook after another mother in Memphis stabbed her four children to death just a few days later. Rather than consider how much more dangerous a person who stabs her children to death might've been if she'd had a gun, "pro-cop" and guns rights activists saw things through a considerably bleaker and more ignorant lens that focuses on the "demonization of guns":
I don't even know how to process this level of stupidity or lack of humanity, but I think it's "safe" (so to speak) to say that the U.S. is very sick, and the unbridled worshipping of guns is our disease.
Maybe to half of the population, a picture of kid at a gun show doesn't inspire queasiness like it does in me. Maybe to some people, it's just the visual representation of "starting a great day." But I believe those people are promoting this sickness, spreading it to their children, and passing down guns as though they're cherished family heirlooms, when in fact they're the reason there were over 53,000 gun incidents in the U.S. in 2015 alone.
Whether we're talking about how guns are kept in a suburban home or how someone on an FBI watch list could obtain the weaponry needed to murder 49 people dancing in a gay nightclub, it's time to recognize the role every single gun owner plays in the terrifying reality that has become our country's status quo.
Let's remember what's at stake here: The right to live. The right to exist without being gunned down by a terrorist or by your own mother. The right to value human life more than guns. And the right to live long enough to teach our children that they're more important than the Second Amendment.
You can click here, here, here, here, and here to read my other columns about guns and gun control, a few of which feature tiny children holding giant semi-automatic weapons (and in one exciting case, a sniper rifle!). If that doesn't sound like an adorable barrel of laughs, well, you must not be pro-American.