Some Iowa politicians apparently believe it’s a fine idea to put handguns into the tiny palms of children and let them load, lock on a target and squeeze the trigger.
As long as a child under 14 is within hearing or eyesight of a parent or legal guardian, that child is free to fire away. That’s according to a bill that passed through the Iowa House a few weeks ago on a 62-36 vote.
Not everyone in the chamber was thrilled by the brilliance of this move. “We don’t need a militia of toddlers,” one Democrat legislator demurred. To which the Republican sponsor shot back that his bill merely returns authority to parents.
But there’s a problem with the sponsor’s reasoning. It assumes that parents always do right by their children when it comes to firearms. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Plenty of adults leave loaded guns unsecured and within easy reach of young children. News reports are full of horrific stories. A child finds a loaded gun and playfully aims it at their sibling or best friend. He or she pulls the trigger, with devastating consequences for everyone involved – not least for the shooter child, who must grow up with the knowledge that he or she killed or seriously injured a sibling, cousin or playmate.
Yet rarely is anything done to hold the negligent parent accountable.
Sympathy is one reason. Families are devastated by such tragedies, and prosecutors are often reluctant to pile onto their enormous grief. As a result, the legal deterrent is lost.
In fact, prosecutors in nearly half of all states lack the authority to file charges through parental liability laws or child access prevention laws. Such laws are necessary to counterbalance the mania among gun enthusiasts for arming every man, woman and child in America.
Tennessee has introduced MaKayla’s Law, named after an 8-year-old girl who was killed by a shotgun blast when her 11-year-old neighbor boy got hold of his father’s shotgun and fired it through a window.
The bill provides for a range of penalties if an adult negligently leaves a gun or ammunition unsecured and a child uses it to harm another person.
In Missouri, a similar bill seeking to expand an existing child endangerment law would make it a chargeable offense to fail knowingly to secure a loaded deadly weapon in the presence of a child younger than 17.
The intent of both bills is to give prosecutors a tool to hold adults responsible when their actions are egregious.
Neither bill – both of which were sponsored by female legislators – has much chance of passage. Thank the Republican-majority legislators in both states, gunning for votes in an election year.
No comprehensive statistics exist to tell us how many children are shot accidentally every year. The lack of data is thanks to the efforts of the NRA and other gun lobbyists. They promote a line of denial, blocking government funding for research into these shootings on the argument that they are rare.
By some estimates, however, about 3,000 children are unintentionally shot every year in the U.S. – eight every day. About 124 of those children will die. That’s according to data from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
A 2013 investigation by the New York Times determined that children’s accidental gun deaths likely occur at double the reported rates. Indeed, we shouldn’t be so quick to label such cases as “accidents” when they are highly preventable.
The constitutional right to own a gun doesn’t come with a separate clause allowing for negligence with that firearm.
Reasonable people might think this would be common ground between adamant opponents of gun control and those who desire assurance that children will be shielded from accidental gun shootings.
But come on. This is America, the land where the mere mention of guns sets off rants and conspiracy theories about the government rounding up people’s weapons. And, as states like Iowa prove, many lawmaking bodies are doing all they can to arm everyone, regardless of age. The gun lobby is pushing to eliminate mandatory firearms training for concealed carry licenses, to lower age limits and to undermine the idea that some places – such as elementary schools and college campuses –should be free of guns.
Any rule that can be misconstrued as an impediment to instant, no-questions-asked gun access by law-abiding citizens is deemed an offense against the Constitution.
Sadly, to these gun zealots, children are just collateral damage.
Reach Mary Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org.