Why do kids have access to guns?

The shootings came just as the District debates gun regulations in reaction to the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the city’s handgun ban. And ensure that gun rights will, again, become part of the presidential campaigns.

There may be a more direct and less partisan reaction to the shootings than to jump into the gun ownership debate. As a reader wrote to me earlier this week, the tangled story of T.J. Lane may have less to do with the rights of gun ownership and more to do with gun safety. Especially, when that gun is in a home where a child or teen lives.

“Parents and other adults who keep guns in their homes must secure them from kids, particularly adolescents whose ability to deal with anger, rejection, anxiety, etc. are not yet fully developed,” said Lori O’Neill, who lives in the same county as Chardon.

“I think we have to find a way to have an honest conversation about the decision to keep guns in the home while our children are in their most vulnerable growing periods.”

Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings, spoke to CNN this week and made a similar point: “How did someone this young get a weapon that they weren’t legally allowed to own?”

The Associated Press has reported that it may have been a gun Lane’s grandfather kept in a barn.

More than a third of homes where children live have guns stored there, according to a 2000 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Of those gun owners, 43 percent had at least one unlocked firearm, close to 10 percent were unlocked and loaded, and another 4 percent were kept unlocked and unloaded but with ammunition nearby.

Those statistics suggest we need to do much more in regard to gun safety. Talking to kids is a good start. But we need those guns locked up and out of reach.

O’Neill, who said guns are common in his rural county, suggests that parents consider storing guns elsewhere when children “are between the ages of 12-20, the time when they are most vulnerable to suicide and other violent acting out.”

As a parent of much younger children, I would extend that time period downward. I can talk until I’m blue to my preschoolers, but that doesn’t stop them from exploring and experimenting. It chills me to think they might have access to a loaded weapon while at a friend’s house.

What are better solutions? How can we make sure children and teens can’t get access to guns at home?

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