Common Sense: Gun storage laws don't work; Firearm safety education does

On March 11, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a hypocrite who enjoys his own private armed security but insists that everyone else's right to bear arms be severely limited or abolished, coordinated groups of anti-gun extremists to join together in a publicity stunt in Columbus.

As we have documented in the past, publicity is the one thing Bloomberg and his cronies do well. Of course it helps to have their psycophants at the helm of most media organizations, and as such, their latest efforts once again paid off in the attention given to their efforts to help move Rep. Bill Patmon's stalled H.B. 31 (Mandatory "Safe" Storage of Firearms).

While I am used to reading biased media coveage from most outlets in Ohio, one place I am not used to seeing it is from the Gongwer News Service. That's why, when their coverage of last week's publicity stunt failed to include a single quote from anyone who might oppose this flawed bill, which is based on several anti-gun myths, I contacted the writer.

I am pleased to say that the news organization published a follow-up article which documented some of the many problems with this bill.

From the article:

Despite a recent lobbying blitz to promote so-called gun storage safety legislation, opponents of the proposal have argued that the bill will not protect Ohioans as supporters suggest and could actually hinder their ability to self-protect.

Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary Chad Baus said the legislation, which would require Ohio gun owners to lock or store their firearms when there's a potential for a child to gain access to the weapons, is based on "several myths."

If passed, he added, the proposal (HB 31) could put gun owners who store unloaded guns as required by the bill at risk, saying "safe storage laws do not protect people, they don't stop crime, and accidents are already going down without these laws."

"Now we have to lock up an unloaded gun, which becomes basically a useless paperweight when it comes to protecting oneself. So we have to worry about making this firearm completely useless when it comes to self-defense," Mr. Baus said in an interview.

The article goes on to mention the antics of the Bloomberg bunch before continuing:

Instead of passing a safe storage mandate as proposed in Rep. Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland), however, Ohio lawmakers should focus on beefing up gun safety education, Mr. Baus said.

"Education is really the key: we teach kids 'don't touch a hot stove' - we don't ignore the fact that hot stoves exist," he said. "So kids need to be taught: don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult about guns, just like they're taught stop, drop and roll about fire and don't touch a hot stove."

Mr. Baus said BFA believes that current gun safety education in the state falls short, pointing to previous budget funding that he said was available to schools for gun safety programs, but went untouched before being removed.

"We should be teaching it in schools, we should be teaching it in our homes, we should be teaching it to kids whether or not we have guns in the home because they could come in contact with one somewhere else," Mr. Baus said, adding that this is a message kids as young as pre-school can learn.

Such education, Mr. Baus said, can squash the curiosity that sometimes leads children to pick up a gun.

"Curiosity comes into play when they've never been taught - that's when curiosity comes into play," he said. "Maybe I am curious about that hot stove if I don't know what's going to happen if I play with it, but if I know that it is going to burn me, that it's going to hurt me, then I'm not going to be curious about it.

"It's the absence of education that causes them to be so curious."

Mr. Baus added that the majority of gun owners who have situations in their house where children could get access to firearms already take, and should take, measures to protect against this.

"For young kids that we don't want to have access, yes we need to take safety measures, but...you can't legislate responsibility," he said. "Irresponsible people are going to be irresponsible."

Mr. Baus further said enforcement of similar laws in other states hasn't been very successful.

"It's not going to be enforced, it can't be enforced, all it does is maybe give them one more mechanism to try to charge someone with something after an accident happens, but guess what? We're supposed to be preventing accidents, this doesn't prevent it and they'll be charged with worse crimes anyway afterward is something bad happens," he said.

Individuals set on harming someone, Mr. Baus added, will continue to find ways to access firearms regardless of the proposed bill.

"Locks can be picked, trigger locks can be broken, cable locks that they put inside guns all you need is a cable cutter to pop those apart, we can take the steps we need to take but a person with criminal intentions is going to do what they are going to do," he said.

As they do with nearly every piece of invasive, unconsitutional, rights-restricting legislation they dream up, the anti-gun extremists claim H.B. 31 is just "common sense."  But it only takes a little time to look at the other states which have passed these laws to see why they are anything but.

Before we do that, and while we recognize that every accident or illegal use of a firearm by a minor is tragic, it important to keep things in perspective.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the annual number of firearm accident deaths among children have decreased 89% since 1975. Last year, the odds were more than a million to one against a child in the U.S. dying in a firearm accident. Voluntary education programs such as the NRA's EddieEagle GunSafe program work. Among children, firearms are involved in 1.5% of accidental deaths nationally.  For comparison, falls, bicycles and medical mistakes are about the same, (1.5%. 1.4% and 1.3% respectively), while other causes are much, much higher: Motor vehicles (34%), suffocation (27%), drowning (17%), fires (7%), environmental factors (2.3%), poisoning (2.2%).

As mentioned above, we know from other states' experience that so-called "safe storage" laws do not protect people. According to a study done in 2000 by a professor at the Yale School of Law, in the 15 states with these laws, there was no decrease in either juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides when such laws were enacted, but the study did find an increase in crimes like rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Criminals are less likely to be deterred from home invasion-crimes when they know the occupants are not allowed to keep a firearm ready-at-hand.

We also know from other states that trigger locks do not prevent children from accidentally shooting themselves. According to a 2001 Washington Post article, 31 of 32 models of gun locks tested by the government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission could be opened without the key. According to their spokesperson, "We found you could open locks with paper clips, a pair of scissors or tweezers, or you could whack them on the table and they would open."  As I explained to the Gongwer reporter, someone with criminal intent is going to find a way.

I haven't seen more recent numbers, but I know that in 1995 the National Center for Health Statistics found that California had a trigger lock law and saw a 12% increase in fatal firearm accidents in 1994. Texas didn't have one and experienced a 28% decrease in the same year. And, as I mentioned, trigger locks render a firearm inaccessible for timely self-defense, even for adults.

Finally, there are documented cases of older children successfully using a firearm to save the life of a parent, sibling or other family member. Unfortunately, there are documented cases of children trained in the use of firearms who, when attacked, were unable to access a firearm because of their state's so-called "safe storage" law.

If Rep. Patmon truly wishes to make a difference in the lives of children, he should start by supporting efforts to educate children on what to do if they find a gun.

"STOP! Don't Touch! Leave the area! Tell an adult!"

These simple commands have been taught to over 24 million children via the the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program. When children are taught what to do if they find a gun, accidents like these are much less likely to happen.

While I believe this important material should be mandated to be taught in every classroom in Ohio, the ultimate responsibility for teaching children what to do if they find a gun rest with parents. Parents must teach this to their children whether or not they keep a firearm in their home, for the simple fact that the child will not always be in the home. The potential exists for children to come into unauthorized, unsupervised contact with a firearm, and only proactive education by their parents can prevent a negative outcome when they do.

Teaching children what to do if they find a gun is no different than teaching a child that ovens should always be considered hot, that matches and lighters are not to be played with, or that they should not talk to strangers. Most of us do not make a habit of keeping strangers in our homes, yet no one would debate the importance of educating our children about potential predators.

Believe it or not, there is actually a group of people involved in fighting against efforts to educate children on this important information: gun ban extremists.

In 2001, a group of nurses evaluated more than 80 gun accident prevention programs designed to help kids learn what to do if they find a gun, and published the results of their study in the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online. The study named The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program as one of the very best. Additionally, Eddie Eagle has been endorsed by the National Safety Council, the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Sheriff's Association. Yet because this program was devised by people involved with the National Rifle Association (NRA), gun ban extremists do everything they can to make certain that children are not taught the important lessons this curriculum contains.

The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program has no agenda other than accident prevention - ensuring that children stay safe should they encounter a gun. Despite the fact that the program prohibits the use of Eddie Eagle mascots anywhere that guns are present, gun ban extremists have taken to disparaging Eddie Eagle as "Joe Camel with feathers."

Indeed, because of her hatred for the NRA, Toledo's Toby Hoover, who often appears to be a one-woman show at the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and whose group joined Bloomberg's in Columbus last week, either lied or betrayed her ignorance about gun safety (a topic about which journalists insist on presenting her as an expert) about the proven effectiveness of this program to The Columbus Dispatch in 2007, saying "There isn't a program out there that has proven effective."

"There isn't a program out there that has proven effective." The nurses behind the Journal of Emergency Nursing Online study heartily disagree.

Unfortunately, the myth created by the gun ban crowd, who claim to be proponents of safety ("if it saves the life of just one child..."), has taken root in many places.

In 2003, when the Ohio legislature had the good wisdom to set aside funds for elementary schools to purchase curriculum materials for The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program, the extremists were deeply critical:

"Just like the alcohol and tobacco industries have worked to find ways to reach out to underage consumers, Eddie Eagle is one component of the NRA's efforts to reach out to underage gun consumers," [Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh] Sugarmann said.

Evidence that the lies told by gun ban extremists' had taken root was revealed when the funds the General Assembly set aside for schools were pulled after one budget cycle - too few schools took advantage of it.

It is because of comments like Hoover's and Sugarmann's that I place a large share of the blame for accidents on gun ban extremists, who are putting their desire to weaken a political enemy ahead of children's lives.

It is important to note that while voluntarily choosing to lock firearms should certainly be among the safe storage options parents consider, efforts by the state to mandate such a practice are dangerous and ineffective. According to analysis by Dr. John R. Lott Jr. and as published in his book The Bias Against Guns:

Safe storage laws have no impact on accidental gun deaths...

The impact of safe storage laws is consistent with existing research indicating that the guns most likely to be used in accidental shootings are owned by the least law-abiding citizens and thus are the guns least likely to be locked up after passage of the law. The safe storage laws thus increase crime, yet fail to produce any significant change in accidental deaths or suicides.

The answer truly is education, and if Rep. Patmon is truly concerned about helping prevent accidents, he would drop gun control measures like H.B. 31, and instead work to ensure that Ohio schools be required to teach all children what to do if they see a gun.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, an NRA-certified firearms instructor and the proud father of two Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program graduates.

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