Preventable tragedies

Apr. 30, 2014 @ 05:43 PM

“Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows

“That too many people have died?

“The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind

“The answer is blowin' in the wind.”

The lyrics to Bob Dylan’s classic haunt in the aftermath of a tragedy such as occurred in Durham Monday night.

Christian Pittman was playing with a gun in his home on Macon Street. It was loaded. It discharged. Christian died almost instantly.

He was 9.

What in the world is a 9-year-old doing with access to a loaded gun?

Many details of Monday night’s incident and how it came to happen are not known. Young Christian’s family is surely devastated, and one hesitates to suggest blame in the anguished aftermath of such a tragedy.

But what we do know is too many guns can find their way too easily into the hands of children. 

“Cases like these are among the most gut-wrenching of gun deaths,” two New York Times reporters wrote last September in a major examination of child gun deaths. “Children shot accidentally -- usually by other children -- are collateral casualties of the accessibility of guns in America, their deaths all the more devastating for being eminently preventable.

“They die in the households of police officers and drug dealers, in broken homes and close-knit families, on rural farms and in city apartments. Some adults whose guns were used had tried to store them safely; others were grossly negligent. Still others pulled the trigger themselves, accidentally fracturing their own families while cleaning a pistol or hunting.”
Not just accidents make too many children victims of gun violence.  The proliferation of guns in this country, unique in the developed world, is staggering.

“The U. S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population, but owns an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world,” the Children’s Defense Fund said in a 2013 report, “Protect Children, Not Guns.”

The report noted that civilian gun ownership is as high as 310 million – nearly one gun for every man, woman and child in the country. (U. S. military and law enforcement agencies, the report noted, possess about 4 million guns.)

A gun in the home – like, apparently, the gun that turned young Christian Pittman’s childish fascination lethal -- “makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher, and accidental death four times higher.”

We have no quarrel with shooting as sport or with responsible gun ownership. But a loaded gun within a child’s innocent reach is irresponsible.

Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. – like any police officer, witness to far too much senseless death – urged gun owners to take practical safety measures. The police department, he pointed out, provides gun locks for free.

Safety locks are the least a gun owner can do.

How many deaths like Christian Pittman’s will it take before too many people have died?

Try this: Too many died on Macon Street Monday night.