Earlier this month I wrote about an unimaginable tragedy — the death of two Oklahoma residents, one a young mother, shot in the head while changing her daughter’s diaper; the other a 23-year-old man, surrounded by his family as they admired a new rifle, which went off accidentally and killed him.
What made both killings so horrible was that they were at the hands of children; two 3 year-old boys to be exact. In the mother’s case, she was struck down by her own son.
Yet, only a few weeks later here we are again. Another young mother, Veronica Rutledge, this time shopping at a Walmart in Idaho. Her 2-year-old son finds a loaded gun in her purse, pulls the trigger and in the blink of an eye, she is gone — leaving behind a child whose life is forever shattered.
The local sheriff in Idaho called it a “pretty tragic accident.” It’s not. When a 2-year old gets hold of a loaded, unsecured gun, with a round in the chamber, and fires the weapon it’s not an accident — it’s an avoidable tragedy.
These incidents will continue so long as gun-owning parents remain lax when it comes to the issue of gun safety; and as long as Americas continue to buy the fiction that guns protect them.
It cannot be said enough that owning a gun dramatically increases the likelihood that one will be a victim of gun violence. The equation is frustratingly simple — more guns equal more death.
In the case of the victim in Idaho, she had a concealed carry permit. “It’s pretty common around here — a lot of people carry loaded guns,” the local sheriff told the New York Times.
It begs the question: Why?
Idaho has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. There were only 27 murders in the state in all of 2013.
In fact, according to an interview with a friend of the victim, “In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that . . . to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns.”
This goes to the issue of gun safety. Mandatory gun safes for homes with young children, gun locks, tougher penalties for parents who allow children to get access to a weapon, public education on the dangers of unsecured guns in the home — there are basic steps that will barely reduce the number of gun deaths in America but could potentially protect children from the consequences of this nation’s gun culture. They are also the kind of measures that every American — no matter where they stand on the issue of gun control — should be able to agree on.
Already we take all sorts of measures to protect children in other settings — mandatory child seats, helmets on bikes, immunizations. Kids can be taken away from their parents for neglectful behavior. Why would we put something as inherently deadly as guns in a special class?
I am obviously not a gun owner. Nor am I fan of firearms.
Of course many people own guns; they enjoy hunting or target shooting or believe that they are protecting their family by keeping them in their homes.
We’re never going to agree on this issue — and whatever my personal views, guns will remain a part of our national culture.
But surely toddlers shooting adults is where we can draw the line. If there is one place where I have to believe consensus exists it is that tragedies like the one in Idaho this week can and must be prevented. If gun owners and gun control activists should be able to agree on anything, it’s that.
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Michael A. Cohen is a fellow at the Century Foundation. His column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.