Tepid gun stor­age law leads to car­nage

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - By Fred Grimm

Demetrius Wrentz took a bul­let to the head. Last week­end. He was six years old. I’d like to re­port that South Florida erupted in anger over the shoot­ing death of an­other young in­no­cent.

Out­rage, how­ever, has been a scarce com­mod­ity. Demetrius’ death fell into that other, less no­ticed cat­e­gory of ju­ve­nile firearm ca­su­al­ties: the ac­ci­den­tal kind. The car­nage caused by ut­terly pre­ventable “ac­ci­dents” ap­par­ently pro­vokes less dis­quiet than gun mas­sacres, drive-by shoot­ings, gang­banger ex­e­cu­tions and other child killings that get us so riled.

But a first grader who un­wit­tingly dis­charges an un­se­cured pis­tol he found in his par­ent’s home has suf­fered a no less de­plorable death. Mi­ami-Dade Su­per­in­ten­dent Al­berto Carvalho, one of the few com­mu­nity lead­ers to ex­press dis­may over the killing of Demetrius, tweeted, “What will it take for adults to se­cure their guns? How much more heartache? When is it fi­nally enough?”

A kid dies from an ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing ev­ery other day in the United States, ac­cord­ing to a col­lab­o­ra­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The As­so­ci­ated Press and USA To­day. Al­most al­ways, the trig­ger was pulled by the vic­tim or a play­mate. Al­most al­ways, the gun owner failed to se­cure the weapon. That de­scribed the death of Demetrius in his Mi­ami Gar­dens home. Po­lice think the first grader, who was han­dling the gun as if it was toy, shot him­self.

Of­ten the vic­tims are even younger. Five weeks ear­lier, in a nearby neigh­bor­hood, a two-year-old sur­vived a gun­shot wound to the ab­domen af­ter he found his fa­ther’s a loaded pis­tol. A week later, the same sce­nario led to the death of a Jack­sonville two-year-old.

The AP/USA To­day in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­am­ined about 1,000 ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings and found that “deaths and in­juries spike for chil­dren un­der 5, with 3-year-olds the most com­mon shoot­ers and vic­tims among young chil­dren.” Ninety kids aged three or younger were killed or in­jured in the shoot­ings, usu­ally self-in­flicted. In all, 152 chil­dren un­der 12 were killed by self-in­flicted gun­shot wounds or by an­other child. Seven of those kids were from Florida.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Tampa Bay Times came up with even more grue­some num­bers. Af­ter re­view­ing hos­pi­tal and med­i­cal ex­am­iner records, the news­pa­per cal­cu­lated that Florida chil­dren suf­fer a gun­shot wound ev­ery 17 hours.

Last month, Mc­Clatchy news­pa­pers, in part­ner­ship with The Trace, a non-profit that tracks firearm is­sues, counted 1,100 teen and child gun deaths na­tion­wide in the 12 months fol­low­ing the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas shoot­ing. “That’s a Park­land ev­ery five days,” the re­port noted. At least 154 of those fa­tal child shoot­ings were clas­si­fied as ac­ci­den­tal. Twenty-one of the vic­tims were two or younger.

It’s as if U.S. chil­dren have been con­signed to a war zone. A 2015 study pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Medicine found that 91 per­cent of chil­dren un­der 14 who were killed by firearms lived in the United States.

No won­der. The U.S. has the most per­mis­sive gun own­er­ship laws in the in­dus­tri­al­ized world. And so many pri­vately-owned weapons (per­haps 350 mil­lion) that tragic ac­ci­dents be­come a sta­tis­ti­cal in­evitabil­ity.

Most ad­vanced na­tions, in ad­di­tion to strin­gent back­ground checks for gun pur­chasers, have strict laws gov­ern­ing stor­age. Israel, Ger­many, Bri­tain, Aus­tria, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia, In­dia, China, South Africa, for ex­am­ple, re­quire stor­age lock­ers that can pass po­lice in­spec­tions, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. Not the U.S.

State laws re­gard­ing stor­age vary, but only Mas­sachusetts re­quires guns to be safely locked away when not in use. A study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Ur­ban Health es­ti­mated that 4.6 mil­lion chil­dren live in homes with un­se­cured guns, which may ex­plain why the U.S. suf­fers twice as many ac­ci­den­tal child firearm deaths a year than the to­tal firearm deaths Eng­land re­ports in any age cat­e­gory.

Florida, at least, has a tepid statute that re­quires gun own­ers to store their weapons in locked con­tain­ers or ap­ply trig­ger locks if the owner “rea­son­ably” con­cludes that a mi­nor might be in the vicin­ity

The sad irony is that the own­ers pur­chased the firearms that killed 154 chil­dren ac­ci­den­tally and pro­vided the means for a thou­sand kids’ sui­cides to pro­tect their fam­i­lies. Ex­cept a study in the Jour­nal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that for gun­shot fired in self-de­fense, there were four ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings, seven crim­i­nal as­saults or homi­cides and 11 at­tempted or com­pleted sui­cides.

That’s the bloody re­al­ity. That and the death of Demetrius Wrentz.

Fred Grimm (@grim­m_fred or [email protected]), a long­time res­i­dent of Fort Laud­erdale, has worked as a jour­nal­ist in South Florida since 1976.

Fred Grimm (@grim­m_fred or [email protected]), a long­time res­i­dent of Fort Laud­erdale, has worked as a jour­nal­ist in South Florida since 1976.

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