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No Sleepover at House with Guns
Q: My next-door neighbors have several guns in their home. A few weeks ago, I told them I didn't want my 14-year-old son sleeping over there anymore. The father said his two teenage boys know all about gun safety, but I still said ''No.'' Later, he offered to put locks on his guns when my son sleeps over, but that doesn't feel good enough to me. Am I wrong?
A: Do you mean are you wrong to listen to your intuition about your son's safety? Absolutely not. Gun locks are an after-market product, not part of the gun itself. It would be like having to put a padlock on your car every time you parked it -- as opposed to merely using the built-in door and ignition locks.
You are absolutely right to recognize all these risks. They are real, and they pose more of a threat to our teenage boys than anything else in their lives.
Firearms are unique among consumer goods in America in that they are not governed by any federal safety regulations. There are four categories of regulations covering the manufacture of teddy bears, but none about guns. While most every business is concerned with delivering its product or service safely, gun manufacturers are studying ways to make their products more lethal. They work to make them more portable, more rapid, and more effective at damaging human tissue.
For some people, restricting gun use in any way -- even for toddlers -- is the psychological equivalent of government-imposed castration. I want to point out that I am not challenging our so-called right to bear arms (in whose name, by the way, more Americans have died at home than have died at war). And I am not advocating government gun control.
It is clear, however, that children would benefit if we held gun manufacturers to the same product-liability standards we require for every other consumer product.
Guns could have components that inhibit firing by children, or technologies that allow operation only in the hands of the owner (with a coded ring or wristband, for example, or a built-in combination lock). It's easier to shoot most handguns than it is to open a bottle of children's vitamins.
Speaking of tamper-proof containers, the design of billions of bottles of consumer products was changed after the deaths of eight people from poisoned Tylenol, a tragedy completely beyond the control of the manufacturer. Ironically, gun-makers knowingly and enthusiastically build products that kill five hundred Americans each week for which we don't require a single safety feature.
Some gun owners explain that they needn't lock their weapons because they don't have children. To them I'd say that other people do have children, of course, and they will visit your home one day. The plumber who answers your weekend emergency will bring along his bored nine-year-old son, and he will find your gun.
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Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is currently co-chair of the Domestic Violence Council Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy.