“IF A child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.”
We are haunted by that recent comment by President Obama in the wake of the heartbreaking death of 3-year-old Manal Abdelaziz Jr. The boy was with his father in the family’s North Carolina convenience store Sunday when he spotted a gun lying on a shelf and picked it up, accidentally shooting and killing himself. His father was just five feet away and, according to one police officer, “had taken his eyes off the child for just a moment” when the shooting occurred.
The loss of any child is unbearable, but what makes Manal’s death so devastating is that it was entirely preventable and that its circumstances — a curious child, a gun loaded but unsecured and unattended — are all too commonplace. Already in this barely begun new year, a 9-year-old boy in southern Colorado died after being shot in the head by his little brother, a 2-year-old in Texas shot himself in the hand when he picked up a gun his father was cleaning and a 2-year-old boy in Florida shot himself in the face with a gun he found in his grandfather’s truck.
Last year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, there were more than 270 incidents in which a child 17 or younger fired a gun unintentionally and harmed someone — most often themselves or other children. A report co-written by the group showed American children are 16 times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries, even as research indicates that incidents involving death or injuries are significantly underreported in federal data. Nearly two-thirds of the incidents, the group concluded, likely could have been prevented if the firearms had been stored securely. The president, in calling for new technologies to boost gun safety, invoked the 30 children younger than 5 years old who died in unintentional shootings in 2013. “There is no reason for this,” he said.
It is maddening — and disgraceful — that development of safer, childproof weapons has fallen victim to the unreasonable clout of the national gun lobby. Not only have firearms been exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but also gun manufacturers who think there is market for “smart gun” technologies have been intimidated into not developing products that would help save lives. And not just those of children. Consider, for example, the difference technology would have made if the stolen gun recently used to shoot a police officer in Philadelphia had been programmed for use only by its legal owner.
If the arguments used by the gun lobby had been applied to auto safety, there would be no seat belts or air bags, and more lives would have been lost, not saved. Mr. Obama’s vow to work with the private sector to update firearms technology is a prudent and long-overdue step in the right direction.