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Another Tragic Gun Accident : Too Many Weapons, Too Little Control Both Play Roles

In the spring of 1993, there was a rash of shootings in Southern California involving accidents with children. In one of these, a 17-year-old Westminster boy died after being shot in the head by a 14-year-old friend with a .22-caliber pistol.

At the time, we observed that even with a new state law aimed at gun owners who allowed weapons to fall into the hands of children under 14, there remained a great risk to youngsters from instances in which loaded weapons are left where children can find them.

The sense of inevitability arose from the depressing proliferation of handguns, the lack of meaningful gun control, and, in the home, the carelessness of some gun owners.

In La Habra earlier this month, a group of young friends was playing with a handgun when a 16-year-old boy put it to his head, apparently thinking it was empty, and fired, according to police. The boy died. Police said the incident was a grim reminder of the safety precautions that need to be taken when keeping a gun in the home.

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Sgt. Phil Stufflebean’s observation should stand as a warning to parents, guardians, and neighbors everywhere: “This is an all-too-common and tragic situation. We just can’t place enough emphasis on the need for safety regarding handguns in the home. [With] as much information that is out about the importance of this, you still have people getting shot while handling a gun.”

The larger question is whether there are too many handguns period, even with caution at home. The Times has argued that only by reducing the nation’s vast arsenal can there be a significant reduction in violence, fear and--as in the case in La Habra--instances where young people are shot and killed by accident.

The public for some time seems to have recognized the peril of allowing handgun ownership. A Harris poll in 1993 found, for example, that some 52% of respondents favored not only registration requirements contained in the Brady bill, but “a federal law banning the ownership of all handguns.”

Harris’ poll was done for the Harvard School of Public Health, which says something about the nature of the risk. La Habra’s tragedy exemplifies the serious public health aspect of the dilemma of guns in the home.

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