I found my dad’s gun when I was ten years old. I remember a few months before, him and my mother did a massive clean out of their closet and among platform shoes, tie- dye blouses and bell bottoms was unearthed an early Smith and Wesson shotgun. There was a brief story about the good old days of Black Panthers and sticking it to the man, but besides that I didn’t pay it any mind. I assumed they had gotten rid of it, but being the nosy, bored child I was, I found myself staring down its black barrel when I discovered it lying hidden on their dramatically high headboard. I left my fingerprints in the dust that coated it, but assumed it was heavy, so I never lifted it. In fact I gladly hopped off the bed feeling not anymore curious, but a little more safe. My parents never talked to me about gun safety but I didn’t feel the need to pick it up, play with the trigger or search for bullets. Maybe it’s because I was a girl and more into Cabbage Patches then Cops and Robbers, but I just wasn’t that fascinated. Besides, I saw what guns did to people on TV and it wasn’t glamorous; I wasn’t taking any chances. Guns and children don’t mix, and when they do the results can be tragic.
The Sandy Hook tragedy has raised many issues about gun control and the access children have to them. My partner has a license to carry and carries his gun regularly. The sight of it makes me slightly uncomfortable but the safety I feel cancels out my discomfort any day. I look at guns like insurance: you hope you never actually have to use it, but in the event that your family’s safety is in jeopardy, knowing that you can protect yourself can make the difference between being victims and being survivors. Although statistics have shown that most unintentional firearm-related deaths among children occur in or around the home, I still firmly believe that when kids are educated and parents take the appropriate safety measures, this risk decreases dramatically.
As much as I feel the events of December 14 were brutal and senseless, my opinion on guns remains the same: they make me feel safe and it is the responsibility of any legal gun owner to abide by the law and make sure that they are the only ones who have access to them. In the wake of the tragedy, many people would disagree with me. Gun ownership doesn't automatically equal an unsafe environment for your children and there are plenty of owners that keep their children safe and educate them about gun safety. But could tragedies like Sandy Hook be avoided if guns were restricted from homes where children live entirely?
President Obama recently revealed that he was determined to get a gun control law passed early in his second term. The President has a mixed record on gun control dating back to his first term when the only gun law he signed was one that allowed guns on National Park lands and Amtrak trains. His presidency has been a challenging one with five of the nation's twelve deadliest shootings occurring during his first term. He has expressed his opposition to assault-weapons being available to the public, "I ... believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals,” but he ultimately didn’t push for the renewal of the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
Even in the event that citizens were ever legally denied their right to own firearms, I don’t think world peace would break out and innocent people would stop being murdered. My point is that most often when we hear about shootings in schools, malls and movie theaters, it’s not by the citizens who are licensed to carry. It’s people who obviously have no respect for the law in the first place. Gun control in America isn’t perfect, however. James Holmes, the man responsible for the Colorado movie-theater shooting was carrying four different guns in his car when he arrived at the Aurora theater. Although he was rejected from membership to a Colorado gun range from what the owner said was a “bizarre message” on his voicemail greeting, the weapons were obtained legally within a four-month period as well as body armor and various explosive devices used to booby-trap his apartment. Maybe if gun distributors were required to report questionable purchases or had stricter background checks we could avoid them falling into the wrong hands. I don’t think guns should be eliminated from the public entirely, but it shouldn’t be easier to get a gun than a driver’s license.
It’s a personal decision that every parent has to make for his household, but if you do choose to keep guns in your home it’s your responsibility to limit children's access and educate them about gun safety. It all comes down to what risk you choose to take: the risk of an accidental shooting stemming from your kid’s curiosity or risking the inability to defend your home and family in the event of an assault. Remember that statistic from earlier? Fifty percent of accidental shootings take place at the home of the victim, and 40 percent at the home of a friend or relative. Guns and disturbed people have been around for a long time and there is only so much you can do to shield your child from the violence that occurs because of them. You can’t always control your child getting caught in the crossfire, but you can educate them on responsibility and respect for human life.
Would you keep a gun in the house with your children?
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.
Firearm Safety, Boston Children's Hospital www.childrenshospital.org