Our 2nd Amendment Rights May Be Killing Our Children

Picture courtesy of http://www.jenniferpwilliams.com/2011/05/what-have-you-taught-your-children.html

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.

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Criminalizing Children at School, The New York Times

The National Rifle Association and President Obama responded to the Newtown, Conn., shootings by recommending that more police officers be placed in the nation’s schools. But a growing body of research suggests that, contrary to popular wisdom, a larger police presence in schools generally does little to improve safety. It can also create a repressive environment in which children are arrested or issued summonses for minor misdeeds — like cutting class or talking back — that once would have been dealt with by the principal . . .

In the mid-1970s, police patrolled about 1 percent of schools. By 2008, the figure was 40 percent . . .

The belief that police officers automatically make schools safer was challenged in a 2011 study that compared federal crime data of schools that had police officers with schools that did not. It found that the presence of the officers did not drive down crime. The study — by Chongmin Na of The University of Houston, Clear Lake, and Denise Gottfredson of the University of Maryland — also found that with police in the buildings, routine disciplinary problems began to be treated as criminal justice problems, increasing the likelihood of arrests.

Children as young as 12 have been treated as criminals for shoving matches and even adolescent misconduct like cursing in school . . .  federal data suggest a pattern of discrimination in the arrests, with black and Hispanic children more likely to be affected than their white peers.

In Texas, civil rights groups filed a federal complaint against the school district in the town of Bryan. The lawyers say African-American students are four times as likely as other students to be charged with misdemeanors, which can carry fines up to $500 and lead to jail time for disrupting class or using foul language.

Minnesota Law for Sex Trafficking Victims: Proposed Legislation Would Create Statewide Network of Housing and Services, StarTribune

State legislators who will soon decide the fate of funding for the program created by the 2011 “Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act” received a disturbing reminder of that fact this week.

For the past two years, a St. Paul sex ring operated by one family allegedly preyed on especially vulnerable women and children — some as young as 15, and some bipolar or mentally challenged — in what Ramsey County authorities described as “modern day human slavery.”

The four men and one woman charged Wednesday in connection with the ring used what is becoming the key tool of the trade — ads on adult-oriented websites such as Backpage.com — to traffic the women as far away as Ely, according to the criminal complaint filed by the county attorney’s office.

The Internet is increasingly used for trafficking in Minnesota, and victims are getting younger. It’s not unusual for 13-year-old girls and boys to be recruited into sex rings today, according to Jeff Bauer, director of public policy for the Family Partnership, a Minneapolis-based advocacy group.

The Safe Harbor legislation passed in 2011 changed state law to treat sex-trafficked children under age 16 as victims of the crime, not as criminals who could be sentenced to juvenile detention. That was an important first step.  The law also required the state departments of Public Safety, Human Services and Health to work with experts to create a prevention and support model for victims . . .

The $13.5 million budget request to create the statewide system should find bipartisan support at the Capitol. An economic cost-benefit analysis completed last year by the University of Minnesota and Indiana State University estimated a 30-year return of $34 for every $1 spent on early intervention, housing and health care.

The savings would come from lower public costs for administering to repeated physical injuries, sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, and fewer recurring criminal-justice expenses.

Housing is especially needed, since victims often come from broken homes and returning is not an option. For their safety, many also need to be relocated to secure housing in other parts of the state, away from traffickers who frequently try to reconnect. And victims often need specialized trauma treatment.

Armed Guards are Not the Answer

http://youthvoices.net/discussion/armed-security-guards-school

Several gun shooting tragedies have plagued this nation in the last year. It seems that nowadays, each month there is a new shooting at a different school or public place. This past week, a local Houston DJ said on the air that regrettably, she is no longer surprised when she hears about a new shooting because they have become so common. In response to the seemingly increasing number of shootings, the N.R.A. announced its plan to end these tragedies.

According to a New York Times article by Eric Lichtblau and Motoko Rich, “N.R.A. Envisions ‘a Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School,” the N.R.A. first blamed the recent shootings on “violent video games, the news media and lax law enforcement.” Then it announced that in order to cease shootings in schools, there should be armed security officers at every school in the country. The N.R.A. even called on Congress to make this plan happen. About a week later, the N.R.A. President clarified the original position of the group saying that “Whether an individual school wants that kind of protection or doesn’t want that kind of protection is really up to the individual school.”

Currently, about a third of the public schools in the country have some sort of armed security. However, after the N.R.A.’s call to arms, many more schools are considering it, including the school district I grew up in.  However, not everyone agrees that schools should employ armed guards. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that arming schools would not make them safer.  Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy said that “Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.” The New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that he “doesn’t think you’re going to be able to stop someone bent on suicide just by having an armed person there.” Additionally, there was an armed guard during the Columbine tragedy, but that did not stop the shooting.

Another concern about armed guards in schools is the risk of someone else getting a hold of their firearms. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, a Michigan armed guard left his firearm, thankfully unloaded, in a bathroom used by students. Putting more guns in schools is not the answer to keeping our children safe at school, the mall, or the movie theater. I couldn’t say it any better than the reigning Miss America, Mallory Hagan, when she answered an interview question about armed guards in schools during the competition with “I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence.”

Yes, these tragedies are all too common and should not be happening. Yes, our schools need to be safe. However, the answer is not armed guards. What is the answer you may ask? There may not be a clear cut answer and that is terrifying, but what is more terrifying is putting more guns in our schools. A solution to stop school shootings will depend on each individual school and its environment. However, an across the board hiring of armed guards is not the correct solution to this problem.