Million Mom's Marching Miss the Point: Guns Make Us Safer

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

The "Million Mom March" angered and dismayed me. Most Americans, myself included, share the marching moms' goals of reducing childhood gun misuse and criminal gun use. What raised my ire were the means the moms' chose to pursue their goals: Lies and demands for more gun control.

The most often repeated factually-challenged statement uttered at the Million Mom March was that "12 children die each day in America due to gun violence." In 1997, 629 children aged 14 or younger died by gunfire - a rate of 1.7 per day. Still unacceptably high, but a number 6 times lower than that claimed by the marching moms.

The "12 kids a day" statistic includes anyone, 19 and under, who died by gunfire. Most states treat youths 16 or older accused of serious crimes as adults and every state considers anyone 18 or older an adult. The majority of the young adults killed with firearms each day are between the ages of 17 and 19 - with the majority of these deaths being gang or drug related. Tragic, but hardly the picture of child firearm deaths painted by the million moms.

Among the laws the Million Mom Marchers promoted were that all firearm purchasers at gun show's undergo background checks and that all guns be sold and stored with trigger locks. Gun shows are not a serious source for supplying criminals with guns. A 1997 Justice Department study found only 2% of crime guns obtained from gun shows. Criminals usually obtain guns through black market deals and theft.

About 90% of handguns are already sold with trigger or barrel locks. Making these locks mandatory would not stop killers like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold since gun locks are easily defeated. Nor is it likely that locks will save the kids lives since fewer children under five years of age die from accidental shootings (30 per year) than die from drowning in water buckets (40 deaths per year) or from fires they start with cigarette lighters (150 deaths).

These proposals would not just be ineffective in reducing firearm fatalities, they would endanger us all. Firearms are used five times more often to prevent crimes than to commit crimes. Requiring background checks at gun shows would be inconvenient and expensive meaning fewer law-abiding citizens will purchase guns. Fewer guns in circulation equals fewer guns available for self-defense. And gun locks eliminate an important benefit of guns because for safety reasons they require that a gun be stored unloaded. Researchers John Lott of Yale and John Whitley of the University of Chicago found no reduction in accidental deaths or suicides involving children in states which mandate the "safe storage" of firearms. Rather, they found that safe storage laws make firearms less accessible during break-ins. The result: citizens in states with such laws suffered 3,800 more rapes, 21,000 more burglaries and 49,700 more robberies combined than they would have had absent the laws. Trigger locks make guns inaccessible as well, thus a trigger lock law would likely make people less safe.

If the million mom marchers are really serious about reducing firearm crime and childhood gun deaths, perhaps they should join with the National Rifle Association in demanding that felons caught with firearms are prosecuted, that penalties for gun related crimes are stiffened and that gun safety and violence avoidance are taught in schools. At least these proposals have a proven track record of success in reducing gun crimes and mishaps.