“Handgun injury can best be reduced by making handguns less available.”
It’s a statement so obvious that it’s almost funny. But it wasn’t a joke when it appeared in a 1999 journal article titled “Handguns as a pediatric problem,” and there was nothing funny Tuesday when two 15-year-old children were killed and a dozen more injured by a handgun that a boy brought to Marshall County High School.
As horrifying as that shooting was, it is hardly unusual. It was the third school shooting in the United States in two days. Last year, 132 people were killed or injured in shootings at schools and universities.
Authorities have not released much information about the alleged shooter, not even his name, so little is known about what motivated the attack. But a credible source reported that his mother said he had gotten the gun out of a closet at home. If true, this is also startlingly obvious.
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Most kids who kill themselves or others use guns that adults have left, with ammunition, unsecured where they can easily find them. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence tells us that 68 percent of school shooters get their guns from a relative.
And few politicians will do anything to make those guns less available.
None of this was news to a Vanderbilt Medical Center trauma doctor who treated victims of that shooting.
“They looked like my kids and yours,” Dr. Sterling Haring tweeted as he sat in his car at the end of that day sobbing. “I’ve never felt so sick.” And angry. “All I could think about was the #ThoughtsAndPrayers that would be tweeted from politicians who will do nothing to stop the next one.”
Haring, of course, was right. U.S. Rep. James Comer, who represents Marshall County, also offered his prayers last week, even though he voted twice last year to weaken background checks on gun sales.
Gov. Matt Bevin has stayed front and center since the tragedy, offering prayers and sympathy while dismissing questions about gun control, choosing instead to lay the dead at the feet of evil, social media and Hollywood.
It’s the personification of political ambition and the opposite of true leadership — fanning fury about amorphous evils over which he has no control instead of shouldering the political risk to do something, as Haring said, “to stop the next one.”
Nothing can bring the children back who are dead, or fully heal those who will carry throughout their lives the injuries, physical and mental, sustained that traumatic morning.
But if Bevin and legislators in Frankfort and our representatives in Congress want to actually do something to reduce the toll of gun deaths in Kentucky and elsewhere they can. Here are some ways they can change the law to make us all safer:
▪ Pass Rep. Jim Wayne’s bill making it illegal to store a firearm without a lock where a minor can get it. A similar measure offered last session never got a committee hearing.
▪ Treat guns like cars. Require every sale to be registered and that owners insure them.
▪ Require universal background checks for gun purchases, including at gun shows, and enact a waiting period on purchases. This last would reduce suicides by gun.
▪ Restrict access to guns by domestic abusers, as 27 states do. Of those, 17 states require them to surrender guns. Such restrictions have long been part of federal law, but without state or local enforcement they have limited impact.
▪ Stop forcing Kentucky law enforcement agencies to sell guns confiscated in crimes.
None of these suggestions will limit the rights of law-abiding adults to own guns for protection or sport. But there is no question, as the researchers wrote almost 20 years ago, that gun injury and death will decline as access to guns declines.
Voters tired of the relentless toll of gun violence will only make their voices heard when they elect leaders who will enact sensible gun laws.