Can We Prevent Gun Accidents With Better Safe-Storage Laws? Maybe Yes, Maybe No.

USA=-Today is carrying a story on accidental gun deaths of children in which the paper discovered that the CDC number for such events is probably undercounted by about half.  The story describes specific accidental gun deaths, one in which a 4-year old shot himself with a handgun found in his grandparents’ home, another when a 6-year old killed his younger brother with a gun that was lying inside a motel room where the two kids and their parents were spending the night.

accident           Undercounting accidental shootings (or intentional shootings, for that matter) by the CDC is hardly new news. Our friends at the Gun Violence Archive deliver data on and invariably the numbers they get from open media sources are higher than what either the CDC or the FBI report in just about every category of gun violence. And while the NRA will tell you that it’s never the gun but always the person who is to blame for someone being injured with a gun, blaming a 4 year-old for shooting himself is something of a stretch.

The way we usually think about gun violence is to analyze it by creating different categories that cover both the type of violence (intentional, unintentional, homicide, suicide, legal ‘intervention,’ etc.) and the identity of the victim (location, gender, race, age, etc.)  We create these categories because we believe this will make it easier to craft sensible solutions to the problem, such as better CAP laws to prevent accidental shootings, temporary removal procedures for persons at-risk for suicide, and so forth.  It turns out, of course, that the states with the highest rate of accidental shootings, according to the USA-Today article, have no mandated safe-storage requirements at all.

What I am about to say may appear heretical to many of my friends in the Gun Violence Prevention community, or what I prefer to call Gun-sense Nation, but I think that the value and efficacy of safe-storage solutions as a response to accidental gun violence needs to be more clearly understood.  Because when I think about the root causes of gun violence, any kind of gun violence, I prefer not to think about the differences in circumstances or the people involved, but the commonalities which virtually every type of gun violence share.  And the single commonality which appears in every, single act of gun violence, is that the person who pulls the trigger has done something impulsive, careless or both.

The number one reason for car accidents isn’t DUI or speeding, it’s carelessness, which is why we mandate wearing harnesses or belts. But you don’t have seatbelts on guns, which means that no matter how many times people are told to lock up or lock away their guns, sooner or later they’ll forget.  And most accidental shootings don’t result in a young child getting hurt, but involve the owner of the gun who took it out to fool with it, show it to friends, clean it without checking whether or not it was loaded, and on and on and on. I personally know (or knew) three guys who shot themselves with their own guns; one died, two survived.  All three were fooling around with their guns.  The guy who died was playing ‘fast-draw’ down in his basement. Yanked the gun out of the holster, hammer snagged on his belt – bang!

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation should back off from safe storage, or CAP laws or anything else.  What I am saying is that there is simply no other consumer product that you can hold in your hand which is in any way, shape or function as remotely lethal as a gun. And if you believe that this lethality can somehow be mitigated by remaking the human brain so that we will stop being careless, then you go right ahead.  Frankly, I prefer what Walter Mosley says, “Walk around with a gun and it will go off sooner or later.” He’s right.

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7 thoughts on “Can We Prevent Gun Accidents With Better Safe-Storage Laws? Maybe Yes, Maybe No.

  1. Child access prevention should be common sense if not law. But lethality does not equal risk. Let’s double the estimated no. of accidental gun deaths. Still circa 1,000. That is dwarfed by falls, drowning, car crashes,and accidental poisoning.

    Individual foolishness aside, I think the vast majority of gun owners are relatively careful or as you say, given the intentional lethality of guns, there would be blood running in the streets by negligent/accidental discharges, as we see 30-40k a year deaths and millions of injuries with cars, since motorists don’t take the unintentional lethality of cars as seriously as you or I take the lethality of guns. Air bags don’t prevent crashes–they mitigate results. I suppose everyone can be issued a flak vest, eh? Or, someone should not keep guns unless they have a very serious respect for what comes out of the business end.

    • Yes khal I agree, most gun owners follow the safety rules as well as most drivers and pool owners. People are flawed and sometimes they are careless. The point of the article is that being careless with a gun is farm more lethal than being careless with anything else. The other point that is useless is comparing car accidents to gun accidents. How many hours are spent behind the wheel as to how many hours are spent holding a gun per person. I am sure the average person spends thousands of times more hours in a car than holding a gun! Apples and oranges. The lethality of gun accidents is probably multiple times higher than the lethality of car accidents (per hour of use). Guns are more dangerous, period! I have been in two serious accidents in a car and I am still alive today. How many people can say that about gun accidents, if they are still alive that is!?

      • From wiki, as I cannot type effectively with fresh surgery on my shoulder.

        “…The terms “hazard” and “risk” are often used interchangeably. However, in terms of risk assessment, these are two very distinct terms. As defined above, a hazard is any agent that can cause harm or damage to humans, property, or the environment.[1] Risk is defined as the probability that exposure to a hazard will lead to a negative consequence, or more simply, Risk = Hazard x Dose (Exposure).[3] Thus, a hazard poses no risk if there is not exposure to that hazard…”

        Cars and guns extract about the same number of deaths, injuries, and casualty costs per year. You can look it up. True, cars are used for more exposure hours so even if they are seen as intrinsically less lethal and I disagree with you here, they extract the same bottom line in risk. But that is beside the point anyway. Majority of car casualties are unintentional whereas most gun casualties are deliberate. If only gun accidents are included, guns are low risk.

  2. When I was four we traveled to Denver to visit my grandmother. She lived alone in a big house and there had been a series of break ins in the neighborhood, so her son (my uncle) who was an avid gun collector gave her a pistol to keep next to her bed for protection. Yes you guessed it, I went into her bedroom while my parents were in another room and found the gun in her night stand drawer. I was pointing the gun when my parents entered the room and took the gun away from me. My parents did not know that my uncle gave her the gun and where it was kept. Of course they were extremely angry with my grandmother and uncle. I was seconds away from leaving this world at only four years old!
    Mike, you know about gun design. Why can’t a better safety system be invented and mandated for all new hand guns? Just and Idea, but what about a double safety system. One is the standard safety and the other is an automatic safety that engages after the gun is not used (fired) for a period of time. A child could not release this safety easily (childproof like medicine bottles). It should be simple to invent and much less expensive than other electronic safety systems, and much more convenient and unforgettable than a gun lock (gun locks and gun safes have to be used to be effective).

  3. If we treated gun safety around children (or adults) the way we treated car safety,this entire conversation would be moot. In the case of cars, there have been literally thousands of regulations enacted both federally and state since cars first came off the assembly lines in the 1920s that have saves countless lives. Many of those regulations are now state and federally mandated. (traffic stops, stop signs, just for starters,) We’ve become so use to car regulations we think they’re normal but they did not exist when Henry Ford was inventing the assembly line and introducing cheep Model As to America. If you think gun rights preempt safety because of half an amendment and because some activist SCOTUS judge decided to invest it with a meaning it has not had in the near 200 years since it was written, you have not been paying attention to your own country’s history when it comes to product safety. And guns, like cars, are first, and foremost a product.

  4. P.S. Mike: not heresy: just unstudied. When railroads came along lots of folks were against them because the speed, “suck the air from people’s lungs” (and they were traveling at top speeds of 35 MPH.) When cars came along, folks thought they were the devil’s work. All of that ultimately led to enormous amounts of regulation in the name of public safety. We are now living through history and an uncomfortable period of transition. But if history is any guide, (and it always is,) public safety (despite idiotic Republicans and their attempts to hamstring those efforts,) we will eventually emerge a safer society. Especially given the enormous amount of attention being brought to the safety issue over the past decade. Peace.

  5. “Walk around with a gun and it will go off sooner or later.” So…you’re saying guns are like radioactive decay? I don’t think so.

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