A safe gun storage law could prevent tragic child shootings.
How were the kids able to access a gun?
That is one of the first questions that comes to mind after hearing about last month’s tragic death of Nyssa Davis — a 9-year-old girl who was shot in the head in her North Philadelphia home while playing unsupervised with her 12-year-old brother and 5-year-old cousin. Nyssa’s father, who illegally possessed the gun, was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, and so was her brother.
A fraction of a second and a family ruined. Whatever the legal status of the gun, this particular tragedy could have been prevented with one simple lock.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health’s Violence Dashboard, at least 100 children 18 and younger were killed by a bullet in 2019 throughout the commonwealth. Nearly half used the gun on themselves. Many more were shot and survived. How did they have access to a gun? One way is unsafe storage.
Gun owners in Pennsylvania aren’t required to keep their firearms locked when they aren’t using them. And despite evidence that safe storage laws save the lives of children, Pennsylvania Republicans have been blocking any effort to pass a gun storage requirement for years. Bills at the state House go to the Judiciary Committee — helmed by State Rep. Rob Kauffman (R., Franklin) — where they never see the light of day.
Safe storage is just one of the gun control measures that should have absolutely no impact on law-abiding and responsible gun owners. Another one is “red flag” — laws that create a process to remove firearms from people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or are considered a threat. Kauffman has vowed never to allow a red flag bill to get out of the committee as long as he is chair. Similarly, he vowed not to allow a permit-to-purchase measure to ever become law.
Gun violence is not just a Philadelphia issue — though the toll on the city is staggering, with 75 homicide victims only 52 days into 2021. In Pittsburgh, the progress that made 2019 the year with fewest homicides in two decades was nearly erased with a 40% spike in 2020. Harrisburg experienced a 60% increase in homicides. In Cumberland County, homicides doubled from four in 2019 to eight in 2020.
And while violence is rising throughout the commonwealth, so is the number of guns. The number of background checks soared in 2020 to 1.4 million. How many of those guns will end up in a household with children is unknown, but what’s for sure is that not all of them will be locked in a safe at all given times.
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An October Franklin & Marshall College Poll found that more than 60% of Pennsylvania voters were in “favor of creating more laws that regulate gun ownership.” Safe storage, red flag, and permit-to-purchase have all been reintroduced this session. Lawmakers should remember that supporting gun control is not only good policy but also good politics. The time to legislate is now.
No constitutional right is so absolute that a mild inconvenience, such as storing a gun safely, is a price too high to prevent the death of a child.