Ever since my pal Tony Scalia decided in 2008 that owning a gun is a Constitutional ‘right,’ the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has been trying to figure out a strategy that will reduce the annual gun carnage, while at the same time preserving the heritage of freedom and democracy represented by guns. So it’s become kind of a standard preamble to every gun-control argument made by every gun-control group that they ‘support’ the 2nd Amendment, as if any member of the Gun-nut Nation tribe would actually believe that someone who thinks that guns represent any kind of problem at all would ever really be in favor of the 2nd Amendment. Anyway….
One of the GVP strategies that tries to neatly straddle the line between being against guns and yet being for the 2nd Amendment is something called ‘safe storage,’ which means that if you do own guns, they should be kept locked or locked away at all times. Here’s the operative statement from Everytown: “Everytown’s research on unintentional child gun deaths shows that 65 percent of these shootings take place in a home or vehicle that belongs to the victim’s family, most often with guns that were legally owned but irresponsibly stored.” The Brady Campaign says that nearly 1.7 million kids live in homes with unlocked or unstored guns, and they partner with the American Public Health Association in their ASK campaign, which tells parents to make sure their kids aren’t playing in someone’s house where there are unsecured guns.
Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting or even hinting at the idea that safe storage of guns is a bad thing. Nor do I believe for a single second that someone who locks up his gun at night is now defenseless in the face of an invasion by some street ‘thug.’ But I know a bit about how guns are used and what they represent, and I’m not sure that these issues are fully understood by the GVP organizations who promote safe storage or by the public health scholars upon whose research the GVP depends.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that every single gun in America was locked or locked away every day. According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 22 unintentional gun deaths where the victim was under the age of 15. This is 4% of all unintentional gun mortality, a number which slips to 1% when we calculate all categories of gun deaths, intentional or not. The figures change somewhat but not all that much if we increase the maximum age to 19 or 21, but most states issue hunting licenses to residents beginning at age 15, so it’s pretty hard to say that older adolescents don’t understand the risks of guns.
As to whether safe-storage counseling makes any real difference in gun violence rates, the jury is still out. An analysis in 2016 of the most comprehensive studies on the effects of safe storage showed that some programs worked, others did not. And the criteria for determining the effectiveness of these programs was comparing the use of safety devices before and after counseling occurred. In other words, we don’t have any data on whether or not rates of gun violence actually changed.
The best and most realistic approach I know to gun safety is the Advice to Parents stated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It goes like this: “The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home.” As far as I’m concerned, any attempt to find some alternate, crowd-pleasing message just doesn’t work.
I have sold more than 11,000 guns to 7,000 different people and not one of these customers bought a gun from me to take it home, lock it away and never look at it again. As Walter Mosley says, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”