When we talk about making it harder for dangerous people to get guns, we usually focus on felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill. Less often do we think about children in this context.
There are obvious reasons for this, yet a child with a gun poses its own set of dangers for communities and families.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, over 30,000 people were killed with guns in America in 2005. Of those, over 3,000 were children and teenagers, with almost 1,000 16 years-old or younger.
Gun-owning parents who think their children don't know where firearms are kept or haven't handled the weapons without permission may be in for a disturbing surprise.
A new study [see here] involving 201 parents and an equal number of their children has found that 39 percent of kids knew the location of their parents' firearms, while 22 percent said they had handled the weapons, despite their parents' assertions to the contrary. Parents who had talked to their children about gun safety were just as likely to be misinformed about their children's actions as those who said they never had discussed the matter.
The dangerous curiosity of some children was tragically demonstrated by an incident in Indianapolis last weekend where a five year-old climbed to the top of a shelf of books in house, found his father's gun with the magazine removed, but with a round in the chamber, took the gun upstairs to play and then shot and killed his four year-old sister.
There are many important ways that stronger gun laws can help protect children, including safe storage laws requiring gun owners to store their weapons locked and unloaded when not in use; child access prevention laws that hold gun owners responsible for leaving firearms easily accessible to children; as well as laws requiring trigger locks to be sold with every firearm.
Another idea that is already the law in New Jersey - and which is now making its way through the California legislature - is to require that handguns be manufactured to operate only for an authorized user, employing technology already in use with door locks, personal computers, cell phones and credit cards.
As well as helping to make handguns childproof, this technology can also help make unauthorized handguns useless to gun thieves, gun traffickers, and those who attempt suicide with a gun.
As America prepares to celebrate Mother's Day this week, I hope we can take a few moments to consider some common-sense ways our elected officials can help keep children safer, and help cut down on the tragic loss of life every year because of too-easy access to guns.