Guns, Second Amendment, And Dying Children

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[National Op-Ed: Second Amendment Danger To Children?]

In the United States, objects and animals that are deemed a potential risk to the health and safety of society are usually regulated by laws, fines and sometimes, even imprisonment.

For example, let’s take one of our most cherished companions. Dogs are found in many American households. They serve as beloved pets as well as loyal defenders of our homes.

Most domesticated dogs are relatively harmless, except in cases when they are trained as attack dogs. Dangerous canines are often kept on a secure leash, behind a high fence with signs that read "BEWARE." The warning signs are meant to alert passersby of the dog's potentially vicious nature.

Whether we agree with the practice or not, when a dog breaks loose and attacks adults or children, the dog owner is held accountable. Most people have seen news stories showing the scarred faces of victims of dog attacks. When a dog wreaks havoc by attacking innocent people, dog owners are held responsible for not keeping the animal properly restrained.

The owners usually pay for medical costs and are fined in adherence with state laws and regulations. And while a few dog owners may not agree with the regulations, most usually accept that state and local government are trying to maintain a safe environment as well as quality of life for its citizens.

Americans Stockpile Firearms
Now, let's take a look at firearms. Guns are relatively harmless when they are unloaded. Guns are even harmless when loaded---- if locked in a secure box or cabinet. Guns are not inherently evil. When firearms are properly maintained, handled and stored, they are not only tools in defense of life, liberty and property; they can also be utilized, via state regulated hunting, to reduce animal populations. Although citizens have the right to defend themselves by any legal means necessary from life-threatening harm, many citizens believe that it is the responsibility of government to protect its citizens. Realistically however, we know that the authorities cannot be everywhere. And that is why it is often necessary for citizens to secure the means to protect and defend themselves against potential threats.

Although it's easy to believe that firearms are the blame for an increasing number of violent deaths in the U.S, it is just as important to remember that guns are not at fault. Guns are objects that have no power of choice. It is the user of the firearm and the gun owner that has free will, not the firearm.

But if left loaded and unsecured or sold illegally, firearms are objects that have the potential to negatively impact the lives of American citizens. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette recently ran an article that said gun sales are at record levels and that fear of government controls are causing a buying spree of weapons and ammunition.

According to the article, "more than 4.2 million firearms background checks were performed from November 2008 through this January." Gun dealers who were interviewed for the article said the increase in sales is "fueled by a simple mentality: stockpile while you can."

Guns Mishandled; Tragic Consequences
As gun sales increase throughout the country, there seems to be a correlative increase in accidental shootings deaths that involve youth 12 years of age and under. In Pittsburgh, PA., the lives of two brothers were forever changed when their father asked the nine-year old twins to take an unloaded firearm to his bedroom. The father left the boys alone with the gun and one twin went to the garage, collected bullets from an unlocked box and loaded the gun. Stephen watched his twin brother Christian play with the gun for a few minutes, loading and unloading it. Christian then lost interest and discarded the gun on the bed. Stephen picked it up, playfully pointed the gun at the back of his brother's head and fired, killing him instantly. The surviving twin, traumatized by the incident, remains under psychiatric care.

Children of gun enthusiasts often receive youth rifles or shotguns as birthday gifts or Christmas presents. Youth model firearms are usually purchased by a parent or other adult. Youth model firearms range from single to 16 shots. In Arizona, an eight year-old boy, who is now nine, shot his father and a house guest to death with his youth rifle. An 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy, who has since turned 12, used his youth rifle to shoot his pregnant stepmother in the back of the head, ending her life and the life of her soon-to-be-delivered baby.

Another incident gained national attention when an eight year-old boy at a Massachusetts Firearms Expo was fatally injured. The boy was at a gun show with his father. One of the games at the show provided an opportunity for firearm enthusiasts to experience what its like to shoot a 9mm Micro Uzi, a deadly, fully automatic weapon.

Lt. Nunez of the Westfield Police Station told that, "the gun's powerful recoil forced it upward and then back, causing the round to strike the boy on the right side of the head." And finally, a family enjoying a game of target shooting at a summer campsite left the gun they had been using unsupervised and loaded on the ground. A three year-old toddler wandered away from the adults, found the gun, picked it up and shot himself to death.

Children Becoming Willful Killers
Of course, most American citizens have, on occasion, heard about accidental shooting deaths that involve children. But lately, it seems there are more and more cases of not only accidental shootings that result in a child's death, but we are beginning to hear of a growing number of children using firearms to shoot family members and friends.

The analogy about dogs in the introduction was not unintentional. As stated, dogs are not inherently dangerous to humans. However, if mishandled or improperly treated, dogs can become vicious animals that place human lives in danger. Fortunately, we have laws that are not only intended to protect humans, but to also protect dogs from negligent dog owners.

Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, recently served time in prison due to illegal gambling and because he was proven to be a cruel and negligent dog owner. Despite almost completing his sentence, the continuing backlash from animal rights organizations has left Vick's career and public image in shambles. If animal advocates are able to get laws passed that protect dogs from irresponsible owners, how is it possible that citizens in one of the most powerful democracies in the world, are unable to pass effective laws that protect children from irresponsible gun owners?

What About The Rights Of Children?
Gun owners believe that self-defense is a human right. Powerful gun rights groups spend millions of dollars to protect that right. Politicians support the efforts of these groups by voting against most gun control legislation that is introduced.

But Susan Gates, general counsel for Washington based Children's Defense Fund, told ABC News that the type of shootings described in this article "are a reminder that there is not enough being done in the U.S. to keep guns out of the hands of children."

Groups that protect the rights of gun owners may want to consider promoting gun safety laws that protect children. As long as guns are in American households, there will remain the risk of accidental shootings.

The U.S. should hold negligent gun owners accountable in the same manner that negligent dog owners are held accountable for their actions. Firearm advocates say they only want to protect their constitutional rights, but increasingly it seems American children are becoming victims of the Second Amendment.

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