Demands for action on gun safety measures jump in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States. But the slow drip of daily yet less-publicized tragedies vastly outweighs the carnage of mass shootings that dominate headlines and cable news coverage.
Of the 38,658 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2016, nearly 60 percent of those deaths — 22,938 — were classified as suicides, according to National Safety Council figures.
A range of gun-safety measures have been proposed, and voters this November will likely have the opportunity to have their say on a state-wide initiative that includes several of them. Initiative 1639, among other provisions, would would raise the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic firearm to 21 from 18.
But another provision in the initiative and the focus of legislation recently passed in Seattle and being considered in Edmonds could be among the most effective methods for keeping firearms out of the hands of those who should not have access to them, in particular: children.
Initiative 1639 includes a Child-Access Prevention law that would hold gun owners legally responsible if a child or other prohibited person uses a gun that is not secured safely, such as in a safe or with a gun lock. The law outlines criminal penalties for violations of the law.
Edmonds City Council member Mike Nelson told The Herald last week that he intends to propose a similar law to require safe storage of firearms by the city’s gun owners. As proposed, the ordinance would hold gun owners civilly liable, allowing the city to levy fines between $500 and $1,000 for violations and up to $10,000 if a crime or injury results from the use of an unsecured firearm by a child or unauthorized person.
Nelson’s proposal is based on Seattle’s law, which its council passed last week.
There’s a common refrain heard that a particular gun-safety measure — especially those suggested after mass shootings — “wouldn’t have made a difference.”
That argument fails in the face of Child-Access Prevention laws when considering the deaths and injuries — many from suicide — that involve children.
In 2015, 1,458 children under the age of 18 were killed by firearms, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, nearly 39 percent (566) were classified as suicide. Another 7,537 children sustained nonfatal injuries from guns.
A year later, 1,637 firearm deaths of children under 18 were reported. Again, 39 percent were classified as suicides, children who gained access to firearms and used them to end their lives.
A survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that more than half of gun owners (54 percent) reported they did not store all firearms in their homes safely in a locked gun safe or case, in a locked gun rack or with a trigger lock or other gun lock. Of those homes with unsecured firearms, children under 18 were present in 34 percent of those homes.
A separate survey, published earlier this year in the journal Pediatrics, found that only 35 percent of gun-owning parents of children with a history of risk factors for self-harm, such as depression, reported securing all guns with a lock.
And in Washington state, a survey by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health found that in households with firearms, guns were stored unlocked in 37 percent of homes.
A recent report by the Rand Corp. found that among reports of children’s deaths from suicide using firearms, 82 percent had used a gun belonging to a family member; 64 percent of those firearms were not locked.
Overall, an estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with unsecured firearms, according to a recent survey in the Journal of Urban Health.
Clearly, in too many homes, too many children have access to too many unsecured guns.
Only a handful of states have some form of a CAP law. Massachusetts is the only state that requires all firearms to be locked at home. California, Connecticut and New York make the requirement for those who have someone in the home who is not allowed to possess a firearm.
But in those states that do have such laws, the John Hopkins report found, fewer firearm suicides were reported among adolescents. And the Rand report found supportive evidence that such laws reduce all firearm self-injuries and suicide attempts among children and reduce unintended firearm deaths and injuries among children.
Washington state voters should give full consideration to I-1639 and its provisions this fall. If the initiative is not successful, state lawmakers should make CAP legislation a priority.
And the Edmonds City Council should proceed with its consideration of Nelson’s proposal. Nelson, a gun owner and father of two young children, told The Herald he believes there is support for such laws, particularly among gun owners.
“I want to show the public there are gun owners out there that support responsible gun ownership and safety,” he said. “There are people out there who think this is a reasonable thing.”
It is reasonable and it would make a difference.