This was another one of those news weeks where I saw a headline that almost literally knocked me out of my chair.
“Two-year-old LA boy shot dead by 9-year-old brother.”
I saw the story, and literally had to blink twice before I caught the full meaning of it. After reading the story, I continued blinking, and I was even less sure what to make of it.
As it turns out, the 9-year-old was playing with a loaded handgun when it “went off,” shooting his little brother in the torso and killing him.
The story left a lot of questions open that to my knowledge haven’t been answered publicly, but which certainly raise some points to think about.
First and foremost, what were these children doing “playing” with a loaded handgun? There is a long list of things that I think most adults agree are far too dangerous for little guys to use for toys when they’re home bored on summer break. Loaded weapons are high on that list – second only to nuclear ordnance.
In fairness to the parents, whose suffering I cannot begin to fathom, the story was unclear as to whether the children were in their own home or someone else’s, and did not specify to whom the gun belonged.
While those details matter, to a certain extent, I don’t suppose knowing them will change anything. That poor child is dead, and his big brother will have to live with knowing he is the reason his brother is dead. The parents are going to have to mourn the loss of one child, while trying to help the other one through it – provided they don’t wind up facing charges themselves which, as of Monday, did not seem to be in the cards.
All told, it’s a horrible tragedy – made even more awful by the fact that somewhere down the line, it was absolutely preventable.
As we all know, little guys are slippery. They are also clever, and the older they get, the more slippery and curious they become. By the time they are nine [I’ve been told], children will wonder about almost anything and everything that hasn’t been demystified for them. This includes guns.
One of my dearest friends is something of a gun aficionado. He and his wife have a couple of gun safes, which they keep full. While they both have their favorites, they both know how to fire every weapon in their home. Their 10-year-old daughter, on the other hand, although she knows there are guns, has not yet been taught how to shoot anything more powerful than her BB gun. They talk about the other weapons; she knows they are in the house. But to the best of my knowledge, she doesn’t know where to find them, and couldn’t get into the gun cabinet, even if she did.
Her daddy tells me that one day, when she asks, he will teach her how to fire the guns. In the meantime, she knows they don’t belong to her. And therefore, she knows not to touch them. She also knows that when she wants to learn about them, all she has to do is ask.
That approach makes sense to me.
The adults in the house know where the guns are, how to get at them and how to fire them. If they need to protect the homestead, they can. But at the same time, the little one – and her visiting friends – are not at risk.
Over the years, and particularly when tragedies like this happen, I hear people begin to argue about whether guns should be kept in the home, or whether they should be outlawed altogether. The accidental shooting death of a child is always a strong, emotional weight on the side of gun control. And I’m sure we’ll hear a lot of people say, “well, nine years old is too young to know about guns, anyway.”
However, being more toward the “let law abiding citizens keep their guns” side of the spectrum myself, I tend to think situations like this one, tragic as they are, serve as reminders about the power of education and responsibility.
One has to wonder – if that 9-year-old had understood, in no uncertain terms, that gun was not a toy, would his brother still be alive today? Most likely. If the parents had made the child understand, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t to touch things that didn’t belong to him, would this have happened? Probably not. And of course, if the gun owner hadn’t left a loaded, unsecured weapon in a place where a child could pick it up and “play with it,” we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Tragic accidents happen. And when they do, particularly when we’re on the outside looking in, it’s easy to want to assign blame. It’s easy to armchair quarterback and say, “This is what I would have done differently.”
Which then begs the question.
Do you have a gun in your house? What are you going to do differently, to make sure that the next time we have this conversation, we aren’t talking about you, or about your children?