Today I received a press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation which proudly announced it had signed up its 500th supporting organization for Project Childsafe, the NSSF’s safety program for children that kicked off in 1999. Under this program, the NSSF has sent more than 36 million safety kits and locks to more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies who, it is presumed, then distribute the printed materials and safety devices to local residents free of charge. The program used to be funded by a grant from the Department of Justice, but this funding ended in 2008. Now the NSSF and its member organizations bear the costs themselves.
Project Childsafe has been tirelessly promoted by the NSSF and the firearms industry following the massacre at Sandy Hook. And part of the reason for ramping up the PR about Project Childsafe was to gain the industry some extra leverage in its efforts to stop the Obama Administration from really putting the screws to gun owners by increasing gun safety through more regulation of guns. On the other hand, since everyone agrees that making guns safer through locking them or locking them away, why not distribute gun locks and safety information whether a new gun law is looming or not?
So rather than view this NSSF safety effort in a cynical and self-serving kind of way, I decided to take the gun industry at its word, and see whether Project Childsafe has many any difference in whether Americans, particularly younger Americans, were safer around guns than they used to be. And like anything else, when you go looking for data to either prove or disprove a particular point of view, the results are always mixed.
According to the CDC, which tracks every kind of unintentional injury resulting in death or not, the rate of unintentional gun injuries was 6.21 per 100,000 in 2001. In 2012 the rate had dropped to 5.45, a decline in unintentional shootings of 13%. Let’s compare those numbers to a major cause of injuries, namely motor vehicle accidents which. over the same period dropped from 1,067 to 816 per 100,000, a decline of 24%. Now we have spent I don’t know how many millions of dollars promoting and legislating automobile safety over the last decade, so we should have seen some real results. But I don’t think the gun industry should be ashamed of a 13% decline in unintentional gun injuries for that matter, except that the numbers cited above obscure one very important fact.
The fact is that the greatest decline in unintentional gun injuries between 2001 and 2012 took place among children ages 1 to 19. Their injury rate per 100,000 dropped from 6.29 in 2001 to 3.25 in 2012. On the other hand, the rate of unintentional gun injuries for adults ages 20 and above hardly changed at all; in fact it went up from 6.09 per 100,000 in 2001 to 6.34 in 2012. The Project ChildSafe program may have had some impact on reducing gun injuries among children, but if the NSSF is really serious about gun safety the data shows that they are taking aim at the wrong group. It’s not the kids who are going around shooting each other, even though it’s always the gun injuries to young people that make the evening news. The truth is that we have a problem about safe use of guns with people who should know better, and it’s an issue which seems mostly hidden from view.
If the NRA wants to continue telling us that it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people, that’s fine. But it’s clear that people also injure other people and the industry should smarten up and approach this issue heads on. Because if they don’t, sooner or later it’s going to be done for them and we all know what that means.