By Linda Gorman
More writings from the Independence Institute on storage laws.
Colorado State Senator Pat Pascoe wants to make gun owners criminally responsible for the unauthorized use of their guns. As is the case with much of the rest of the plague of legislation that seeks to micromanage what people do and when they do it, this, too, is "for the children." Fourteen children shot to death every day, 440 children dying in unintended shootings in 1995, and one American youth between 10 and 19 committing suicide with a firearm every six hours are, according to Senator Pascoe, reason enough to reduce people's ability to defend themselves from criminals and to make them criminally liable for the actions of those over whom they may have no control.
Senate Bill 53 would require that handgun sellers "offer to sell a trigger lock" and "inform all purchasers of handguns that Colorado requires safe storage of handguns." As if adults buying guns have never heard of trigger locks, plan to store their guns in an "unsafe" manner or have a snowball's chance in hell of determining just what Colorado's courts might consider "safe" storage. In terms of safety, this requirement, like the sil y questions about who packed your luggage at the airport, does nothing more than waste everyone's time.
Worse, Senate Bill 53 makes it almost impossible for people who have children and live or work in poorly policed neighborhoods to store handguns in a way that makes them available for self-protection. You must use a trigger lock or store your gun in a "locked box, container, cabinet, or closet, or in a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure." If you don't and a juvenile merely "possesses" the gun, you go directly to jail for up to six months and pay up to $750. If he injures someone, you become a felon, can go to jail for 18 months and be fined $100,000.
Would locking up handguns significantly reduce child suicide? Are sixteen-year-olds unable to figure out how to unlock a "locked box, container, cabinet, or closet?" And even if handguns were totally unavailable, wouldn't teenagers intent on suicide simply find another way to take their lives?
Would locking up handguns prevent the deaths of the 440 "children" who died in "unintended shootings?" "Unintended shootings" includes rifles as well as handguns; many of those shootings are hunting accidents; and most of the accidents involve older teenagers (who can use a screwdriver to pop a trigger lock off a gun), not toddlers.
The number of gun fatal gun accidents of all types involving real children (under age 15) is 220, a figure which has declined has fallen by about 60% since 1974.
Would a law like Pascoe's save any of the 14 children who are shot to death every day in America? Probably not, as most of them are murdered. In 1995, approximately 4,000 "children" under 20 years old were murdered. Almost three-quarters of those, 2,858, were 15 to 19 years old. Handguns are used in roughly 56% of all murders, so perhaps 2,240 children, most of them teenagers, were murdered with handguns. Given what we know about gangs, drugs, and illegal weapons, expecting a safe storage law to make a dent in these totals is nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking. Indeed, many of those "children" who were "killed by a handgun" were actually eighteen or nineteen-year-old criminals who were killed by other criminals.
Unfortunately, wishful thinking by lawmakers often causes real people real harm. Locking up handguns makes life much harder for law-abiding people in crime-ridden neighborhoods. They get to choose between increasing their risk of injury or death if they lock their guns up, or increasing their risk of jail time if some punk teenager "possesses" their gun without their permission.
What about the tens of millions of Americans who rely on handguns for self-defense, and who use them hundreds of thousands of times a year to protect themselves from predation? People like the Atlanta woman who bought a gun after her house was burglarized. Since guns that aren't available for use don't stop criminals, she kept her gun in a canvas bag. It was beside the car seat when a gunman forced his way into her car. She killed him by firing it without taking it out of the bag. With a trigger lock, both she and her baby would probably be dead.
Does the miniscule number of lives likely to be saved by this safe storage law (if it saves any lives at all) outweigh the increase in the number of deaths and injuries likely to result from the decreased utility of handguns?
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a think-tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.