The pernicious role guns play in every-day life in the region is increasingly difficult to avoid or to downplay given the deadly and near-deadly incidents that occur with depressing regularity. Some of the cases clearly are horrible accidents. Others appear to be premeditated. The common denominator in all, though, is a firearm. Logic, then, suggests that better licensing of guns and more responsible ownership of them are appropriate ways to slow the toll of firearms-related deaths and injuries. Those suggestions find favor with too few area residents.
Perhaps some of those who have long favored ready access to guns will change their minds about the ubiquity of firearms here given recent events. How could they not following what officials say was the death of a three-year-old in Cleveland, Tenn. who accidentally shot herself. Or the accidental but deadly shooting of an 11-year-old girl by her brother in Whitfield County. Those events are not the first of their kind here.
In the summer of 2010, a 2-year-old girl was killed when her 5-year-old stepbrother accidentally shot her in the chest with what officials say was a handgun found in their home. These unfortunate incidents are part of a national crisis. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 304 children under age 14 were killed in unintentional firearms deaths across the country from 2005 to 2009 -- the latest reporting period available. More than half of those deaths occurred in the South.
That total, unfortunately, doesn't include the number of adolescents over 14 and young adults killed in gunplay. The ready availability of guns -- many of them carelessly stored and inadequately secured -- fueled by easy access to them on the street or at gun shows where legal loopholes allow almost unregulated sales, pushes up the number of accidental shootings of youngsters. No guns, no accidents.
The numbers specifically related to children are unlikely to change anytime soon. How could they when a reputable study indicates that 46 percent of Tennessee households with firearms kept the gun in the home, with about 12 percent keeping the guns loaded and 6.6 percent keeping a firearm loaded and unlocked?
There's no sure way to reduce the number of youngsters --and others -- accidentally killed with guns. Joe Kochlis, an instructor at a Chattanooga firearms store and shooting range, has the right idea, though. "I tell my students clearly, 'With ownership comes responsibility' -- whether you have young children or not. ... One careless second and it can happen in the blink of an eye. To have [a gun] available and accessible to a child can be a tragic mistake." That is an undeniable truth.
Even the most responsible gun owners sometimes forget that. The best preventatives to accidental firearms deaths among children are to reduce the overall availability of guns and -- if firearms must be kept at home -- to lock them and avoid storing them in a place accessible to children. There can be no exception to those rules. As recent events here have illustrated, it only takes a single lapse for unspeakable tragedy to occur.
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