Our 2nd Amendment Rights May Be Killing Our Children

The 2nd Amendment

Gun Control and interpreting the 2nd Amendment has always been a hot button topic.  Some people, like myself, believe that no one but law enforcement should have access to guns.  Others believe that taking away a gun is a violation of their constitutional right to bear arms:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

In a Supreme Court case, D.C. v. Heller, the majority affirmed the holding that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, and D.C., in authorizing only special police officers to carry handguns, only while on duty, violated this right. The Court explained that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, the 2nd Amendment codified a preexisting right to arms to address the fear of the colonies that the federal government would not disarm people to impose rule through oppressive military force, declaring that this right shall not be infringed.  The Amendment ensured this right as a safeguard against tyranny, and this right is applicable to this day.  In response to the petitioner’s argument that the right to keep and bear firearms is only in connection with militia service, the Court states that the right applies to individuals who intend to exercise that right for purposes of self-defense or hunting.

However, I’m not writing to debate constitutional law.  I’m writing about the nature of children and our responsibilities as parents to protect our children from as much danger as possible.

Unintentional Gun Deaths

This past weekend, I read an article in the New York Times, Children and Guns: The Hidden Toll.  The article was filled with heart-wrenching stories of children who found guns in their homes and either ended up killing themselves or killing a friend or sibling.  In one case, a 2-year-old boy somehow opened a door that was supposed to be locked, found a loaded gun from under his father’s pillow, pointed it at his forehead, and pulled the trigger. These cases would never have happened had the parents been more careful about deciding where to place their guns, or if had decided not to keep guns in their home at all.

Along with these tragic stories, there were also statistics regarding unintentional gun deaths among children under the age of 15.  For example, the record shows 62 deaths in 2010. However, these records are estimated to be grossly inaccurate due to the idiosyncrasies in how child firearm deaths are classified by the authorities.  Some deaths are not recorded as accidents. Accidental firearm deaths involving in older children are categorized as reckless homicides and are excluded from the statistics.

The National Rifle Association cited the lower official numbers this year in a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning or environmental factors — an incorrect assertion if the actual number of accidental firearm deaths is significantly higher.  This does NOT make child gun deaths less unacceptable. Even a single firearm death is too many.

Gun Safety Education

The N.R.A. also claims that better education on gun safety prevents gun accidents from happening.  They cite the effectiveness of their Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, which teaches children to “stop, don’t touch, leave the area and tell an adult.”

Public health experts counter that the decline in accidental gun deaths are not solely due to the GunSafe program, but rather improvements in emergency medical care and fewer households owning firearms.  Indeed, in 2011, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 847 unintentional nonfatal firearm injuries among children under 14.  Of course, these numbers were not included in the N.R.A.’s report.

Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a co-author of a study published in 2001 in the journal Pediatrics said in response to the N.R.A.’s claims, “I have no problem with that message, and I would hope every child in America could follow it.  I just know that they won’t.” 

Dr. Kellermann’s observation about children is an accurate one.  You tell a child, “Don’t stick a bean up your nose.”  The next thing you know, she’s crying because she just stuck that bean up her nose.  When children are told not to do something, it makes them want to do it even more.  It’s not because they want to cause trouble, but because they’re curious.  They want to know how things work.  They want to do things that adults do.  They are also unable to truly understand the danger of guns.

One statistic struck me harder than anything else: the article states that the 3rd most common age of self-inflicted handgun victims was 3.  At this age, children’s motor skills becomes much better; their little fingers become much more nimble. They also become more aware of their surroundings. Their comprehension improves; they start asking more questions and “adult things” seem much more interesting.  My daughter turned 3 years old not too long ago.  My daughter walks around the kitchen in my heels, stuffs a shopping bag with pens and papers, and declares that she is going to go to school.  She loves to slice bananas with a butter knife on the counter next to me when I prepare dinner.  She mirrors everything I do or say.  She even puts her stuffed bunny in the time-out corner and reprimands her for making a big mess.  I do not want to imagine what she would do if she ever saw me with a gun…  Even if I told her never to touch the gun and that it is very dangerous, I would never be comfortable with leaving a gun inside my house.  I do not want to face the possibility of even a 0.0001% chance of a gun accident in my home.  

As part of Dr. Kellermann’s study, researchers watched through a one-way mirror as pairs of boys ages 8 to 12 were left alone in an examination room at a clinic in Atlanta. Unknown to the children, an inoperative .38-caliber handgun was concealed in a cabinet drawer.

Playing and exploring over the next 15 minutes, one boy after another — three-quarters of the 64 children — found the gun. Two-thirds handled it, and one-third actually pulled the trigger. Just one child went to tell an adult about the gun, and he was teased by his peers for it. More than 90 percent of the boys said they had had some gun safety instruction.

Other research has found that simply having a firearm in the household is correlated with an increased risk of accidental shooting death. In one study, published in 2003 in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, the risk was more than three times as high for one gun, and almost four times as high for more than one.

Clearly, gun safety education is insufficient.  Not having a gun in the house is optimal for child safety.  

Forgiveness…?

Of course, whether to keep a gun in the home is a very personal decision.  However, parents who lost children to gun accidents refuse to allow guns in their house.  One mother said. “My child living is more important to me than somebody stealing my flat screen.”

Surprisingly, some still hold on: Ms. Skorczewski explained that in her part of the country, hunting is “in your blood.” She knew she could not ask her husband to get rid of his guns. He needs the escape that hunting provides, she said: “You got to have something to do in your life other than work.”      

Clearly, there are many more factors involved in this balancing test than I am aware of.

I cannot bear to finish the thought, “What if that little boy had been…?”  I would never want that tragic fate for my child, and I would never want that for anyone else’s child.  I’m quite sure the Framers did not have these tragic stories in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment.

It is up to the adults to make sure these things are not accessible to the children.  It is best to not keep these things in the house if at all possible.  Guns are not necessary.  We don’t need them to be in the house at all.  They’re not a necessary part of our daily routine.  Some people who live in rural areas of the country say they need it to protect themselves from wild animals.  Fine.  I wouldn’t want to fight off a grizzly bear with my bare hands either.  Just keep them locked and away from the children.  The problem begins with people who are in non-rural areas who keep guns for protection.  What is the point of having law enforcement?  We have laws and law enforcement officers to prevent people from taking justice into their own hands.

We don’t need to sleep with guns under our pillows to feel protected.  There are alternatives.  We get alarm-triggered security systems.  We have the police.  Let’s trust them to do their jobs.  Let’s keep our children safe.

Esther Kim

About Esther Kim

Esther Kim is a third year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She graduate from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a focus in Chinese Language and Literature. As an undergraduate, she worked one summer at the Citizens' Committee for Children, New York, a child advocacy organization, where she developed an interest in children's rights, community after-school resources, and immigration. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, LLP in New York City. Esther is interested in adoptions and child neglect and abuse.

One thought on “Our 2nd Amendment Rights May Be Killing Our Children

  1. October 7, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    Anytime a child loses their life at such an early age, it’s always a tragedy. I can definitely agree on that aspect of the article. But, I would like to offer some of my thoughts on the topic. As you said, the decision of owning a gun is a personal decision, and that’s true, and while the 2nd Amendment affords us the “right to bear arms”, it should be noted that not everyone is “fit to bear arms”.

    I don’t agree with an across the board ban on guns because there are plenty of activties, and industries that rely on the use and sale of guns. I feel that would have a pretty negative impact on the economy. What I do believe is there should be much more training involved and education of guns, their danger, and the absolute need/requirement to safely store your firearms. I feel that more states need to be like California where they require a California DoJ OK’ed gun safe with the purchase of a gun. This would drastically reduce accidents that happen in homes because nobody except those that have the training and understanding would be able to access those firearms.

    That’s just my 2 cents worth on the topic.

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