Opinion

Our gun obsession

Amy Pittman visits the grave of her son, Christian, in Durham on Feb. 10, 2017. Pittman was charged in 2014 with manslaughter after 9-year-old Christian was accidentally shot and killed by his older brother.
Amy Pittman visits the grave of her son, Christian, in Durham on Feb. 10, 2017. Pittman was charged in 2014 with manslaughter after 9-year-old Christian was accidentally shot and killed by his older brother. AP

A couple of weeks ago, an Associated Press/USA Today Network story on our front page recounted a tragic case of a young Durham mother who was jailed after her 12-year-old son accidentally, fatally, shot his younger brother with a shotgun, one of three unsecured weapons in the home.

“Children under age 12 die from gun accidents in the United States about once a week, on average,” the AP/USA today story reported. “Almost every death begins with the same basic circumstances: an unsecured and loaded gun, a guardian’s lapse in attention. And each ends with the same basic questions: Who is to blame, and should the person be punished.”

The point of the meticulously researched story was the wide variety in punishment – if any punishment at all – levied against the inattentive or careless adult in each of those hundreds of cases each year. But it still came inescapably to mind last week when a state legislator launched an effort to loosen – to virtually eliminate – restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in this state.

Current law requires anyone over 21 to obtain from the local sheriff’s office a “concealed carry” permit, which meant the applicant had to complete some basic safety training. That would disappear – and the age at which carrying a concealed weapon is permitted would drop to 18. In essence, there would be no more restrictions on concealed weapons than on those worn openly.

The bill, which cleared a key state House committee barely a day after it first begin moving through the legislature, would not directly impact the cases discussed in the AP story. But its existence and it’s rapid legislative journey so far are reminders of the dangerous obsession with guns that continues relentlessly spreading, a reminder like the roster of avoidable, senseless killings of children.

As The News and Observer editorial board pointed out last week, Rep. Terry Garrison, a Henderson Democrat, summarized the “absurd logic” behind the bill.

“I question the need for a civilized society here in the 21st century to feel that the best deterrent toward violence and gun violence is to carry a weapon openly,” he said. “Guns are made to kill people. That’s the sole purpose.”

Actually, Garrison, a gun owner himself, was a little hyperbolic. As most gun opponents acknowledge, many people safely use guns for target practice and for hunting. But we get his larger point. Too many people die in accidental shootings; too many arguments that might have been settled with fists a couple generations ago are solved with bullets. This country has almost as many guns as it has people.

We need to be tightening restrictions and safeguards, not loosening them as the concealed-carry bill would do.

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