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Peter A. Gorski

Guns in our homes put children at risk

The St. Petersburg Times recently reported the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants private citizens the right to nonmilitia private gun ownership. That same week, a 3-year-old playing with a gun in his family's living room accidently shot himself in the head and died. A 4-year-old pulled a gun from her grandmother's purse, shot herself and died. And a 6-year-old was killed when playing with a gun that his friend brought into his house.

Tragic stories of accidental shootings from the careless storage of guns at home are all too common. Unintentional shootings commonly occur when children find an adult's loaded handgun in a drawer or closet, and while playing with it shoot themselves, a sibling or a friend. The unintentional firearm-related death rate for children up to 14 years old is nine times higher in the United States than the combined incidence in the 25 countries with the next highest number of reported fatalities.

Such statistics direct us toward the one fail-safe solution: Removing guns from homes and denying gun ownership to private citizens will save lives. In fact, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal, unintentional, or suicide-related shooting than to be used in a self-defense shooting.

How much do guns endanger innocent victims? At least 148 children in Florida were killed in 2005 by guns, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In one year, firearms killed no children in Japan, 19 in Britain, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, 153 in Canada, and 5,285 in the United States.

What do the children say? According to Stacie Blake, executive director of Community Tampa Bay: "Tampa Bay teens tell us that it is easy to get a gun and they often don't feel safe at school. … Too many have firsthand experience with a peer being killed."

Private handguns provided no protection to the citizens during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But during the same year, a nearly equal number of children were killed by private guns in our homes. As a nation, we are proud of what we achieved post-9/11: our ability to work together to overcome pain, provide support to neighbors, understand our shared humanity and to face and overcome the fear of differences. These are resources that build real bridges and safety in communities and in the world.

Now consider what we've learned about the safety of people who house firearms. Cities' grim police records expose the myth of safety through gun ownership. Seattle and Vancouver, for example, are located within a short drive from one another and have similar wealth and population demographics. The only major difference between the two is that the Canadian city denies citizens the right to own handguns. Six times as many people die from homicide in Seattle each year, mostly by gunfire, as in Vancouver. At the personal level of safety, the fact is that among young people under 20, one will commit suicide with a gun every eight hours. The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns. The risk of suicide is five times greater in households with guns.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights frame, above all, the enduring values and principles that distinguish our nation as a beacon of justice, democracy and the inherent worth of citizens of every age, race, gender, religion and political ideology. As a framework for our national mores, the Constitution and its amendments guide us when considering how to adapt our behavior and our laws to the development of modern technologies and modern societies. If the equation is guns versus children, let's have the children win. We can learn from nations that limit gun ownership to military personnel and law enforcement agents and consequently experience almost no violence domestically. The truth is, peace starts within — within ourselves, our homes, our communities.

Dr. Gorski is a pediatrician, director of research and innovation at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, and professor of public health, pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of South Florida.

Guns in our homes put children at risk 07/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 24, 2008 3:33pm]
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