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How Kids Get Guns, Part I

Our reporter asks gun control experts for the answer.
By: Katy Abel

How Kids Get Guns, Part I

"I Don't Know"

On Monday Dec. 6, 1999, a 7th grader at a middle school in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma walked up to a group of classmates waiting for the morning bell and allegedly opened fire with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, wounding four classmates. When asked by a sheriff's deputy why he did it, the unidentified 13 year-old reportedly answered, "I don't know."

Does anyone know how to stop children from gaining access to guns? asked gun control activist John Rosenthal for his perspective on the issue. Rosenthal is co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence Inc., based in Newton, Mass., and a member of the board of directors of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington, DC.

Q: How does a 7th grader get a gun?

A: Kids access guns easily because there's at least one gun in 40 percent of American homes. 30 to 40 percent of those guns are left loaded and unlocked. Roughly 80 percent of school shootings have occurred when kids access their parents' or relatives' guns. At Columbine the weapons used were purchased at gun shows, which are virtually cash and carry.

Q: What about the Brady Law? Didn't that deal with the problem of easy gun access?

A: That's a common misconception. The Brady Law, passed in '93, was a good start, but only a start. It requires a five-day waiting period and a background check before you can buy a gun. It made it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer. But a loophole allows 18 to 21 year-olds to buy guns from private or unlicensed individuals. Gun shows and private sales are still unregulated. Toy guns and teddy bears have more federal regulation than firearms. I think if people really understood that, they'd be crazed.

How Much Do People Support Gun Control?

Q: But polls show the public supports strong gun control. Why hasn't Congress responded with tougher legislation?

A: Because people haven't converted their outrage into action. Congress only hears from the NRA (The National Rifle Association) and the NRA has bought Congress.

Q: What's the single most effective thing that could happen legislatively to keep guns out of the hands of kids?

A: The best thing would be to replicate the Massachusetts gun laws, which are among the toughest in the country. Massachusetts treats guns like cars. Cars are made to drive and we require training, licensing, and regulation. Guns are inherently more dangerous and have few of those requirements. Since 1994 Massachusetts has reduced gun injuries by 53%. Nationally, it's a different story. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is supposed to regulate the industry, but the Firearms Owners Protection Act, passed in 1986, prohibits the ATF from making more than one dealer inspection per year.

Q:What do you say to gun control opponents who say owning a gun is a right, while driving a car is a privilege?

A: There have been more than 40 Supreme Court decisions that say gun ownership is a privilege. You have "the right" to have a National Guard, but those rights don't extend to individual gun owners.

Q: What can individual parents do to stop gun violence?

A:When a child is going over to play at a friend's house, always ask the parents or guardians whether there is a gun in the household and how it is secured. Five children a day, under age 19, are killed by the accidental discharge of a firearm, or by suicide. If you're a gun owner, lock up your gun and separate your ammunition. If you're a Mom, consider attending the "Million Mom March" set for Mother's Day this May in Washington. They'll be focusing on the upcoming election and calling on Congress to pass commonsense gun laws.

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