Lock up your guns – no, for real this time

My mother, always trying to help along my budding journalism career, sent me this text yesterday: “There’s a story around here about a 2-year-old who found a loaded gun, played with it and shot himself in the head. You know, just in case you need a ‘guns are not for 2-year-olds’ story.”

I was, in fact, looking for just such a story, and my native central Pennsylvania obliged.

According to local police, the boy found a loaded .22 caliber handgun in his parents’ closet in their home in Manchester, about an hour north of Baltimore, and shot himself in the head.

The safety was on and the boy’s father, who owned the gun, has not been charged with anything, though police said the investigation is continuing.

But this was the second fatal accidental shooting of the new year in the area — an 8-year-old boy shot himself Jan. 9 in Allentown — and, as my mom pointed out, another reminder of perhaps that most obvious of parenting truths: Guns are not for kids.

Parents devour the latest recall reports on strollers and playsets, cover outlets with plugs and place gates across stairs. Those are important steps to take (and we’re happy to help — check out these tips for rooting out hidden dangers in your home).

So remind me again why there was a loaded gun hidden under a pile of clothes in the closet, within the reach of a toddler?

About a third of U.S. households have a gun, a drop from about half in the early 1970s, and in all likelihood, most gun owners follow the laws about locking. But guns should not be in places where children can reach them. Period. I don’t care if the safety is on (which was the case in the boy’s death) or if it’s unloaded (which was not the case).

Politics aside, it’s a public safety issue. Pro-gun groups are quick to point to studies showing that more children die each year from bicycle accidents, sports injuries or drownings. All fair points. But when these deaths are 100 percent preventable, isn’t that our responsibiities as parents? We’re required by law in most states to gate our pools and to make our children wear bike helmets, and guns are no different.

And if you can’t set aside the polices or see the public-safety argument, you can at least lament the tragic loss of a 2-year-old boy in Manchester, Penn.

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