by Dan Lucas
During the Oregon Legislative session that ended earlier this month, two Portland-area Democrats introduced a bill (SB 945) to make it a crime for a gun owner if a minor got access to a gun that wasn’t locked up. KATU reported that a violation “could be punished with up to a year in prison or a $6,250 fine.” The bill also would have prohibited anyone convicted of the new law from owning a gun for 5 years.
Fortunately the bill died in committee.
It’s not clear what the impetus for this bill was, but it doesn’t appear to have been based on any real problem or even any factual basis.
KATU reported that one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton), said the bill was “about keeping guns out of the hands of children who are often the victim of unintentional injury or death from misuse of firearms that are left unsecured.” So her major concern was that children were often the victim of unintentional death from misuse of firearms that are left unsecured.
That concern is not supported by facts.
According to data from the State of Oregon – Oregon Health Authority – Public Health Division, there has been an average of one death per year in Oregon of a minor as a result of a gun accident – based on the most recent 5 years’ available data. And it’s only one due to rounding – it’s actually less than one death a year (0.8). That’s less than one death per year out of 873,000 Oregonians under 18. In 2 of the 5 years there were 0 deaths in Oregon of a minor as a result of a gun accident.
As a physician, Sen. Steiner Hayward has to be aware this information exists. The quality of her legislation would be greatly enhanced if even minimal research was done – to ensure she’s introducing need-based and factually-based ideas and not just pursuing agenda-based ideas.
If she wants to pursue ways to reduce the average of 59 total accidental deaths of minors per year (out of 873,000 minors in Oregon), she should pursue motor vehicle crashes (average of 21 per year), suffocation (average of 14 per year), drowning (average of 11 per year), fires (average of 3 per year), poisoning-including medications (average of 3 per year) and falls (average of 2 per year). Each of those causes more accidental deaths each year of minors in Oregon than gun accidents.
There is no rational reason to have introduced this legislation. And then to try to punish gun owners by up to a year in prison? Would Sen. Steiner Hayward apply that same standard to all the other causes of accidental deaths of minors? Up to a year in prison for someone who didn’t have their medications locked in a safe? Up to a year in prison for someone who didn’t have a functioning fire extinguisher on hand? Her legislation was clearly not about making children safer.
And speaking of keeping children safer, what about children who have been able to protect themselves using firearms?
In October 2012 a 12-year-old Oklahoma girl was able to defend herself when a 32-year-old stranger broke into her home. Time reported that the girl “was home by herself when a man rang the doorbell to her Bryan County, Okla., home. She didn’t answer, so the trespasser walked to the back of the house and kicked open a door.” The girl got the family’s gun and hid in a bathroom closet. Time reported “the intruder worked his way through the house and to the bathroom, and he was turning the doorknob to [the closet where she was hiding] when she fired through the door.” The intruder was hit in the shoulder, which scared him out of the house. He was arrested a few blocks away and taken to a hospital. Afterwards, the 12-year-old girl told ABC News “I think it’s going to change me a whole lot, knowing that I can hold my head up high and nothing can hurt me anymore.”
More recently, back in January of this year, an 11-year-old Michigan girl who was home alone was able to defend herself with a shotgun from a 53-year-old felon who broke into her home, and then forced his way into the locked bathroom where she was hiding. The local newspaper reported “When the male suspect forced his way into the bathroom, the girl reportedly aimed the shotgun at him, at which point he fled.”
Children like these should not be denied the ability to protect themselves.
To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com
Please click here for a PDF version of the table in this article (contains working hyperlinks to sources)
UPDATE (7/27/2015): I was able to locate a source of data on accidental injuries in Oregon (that required hospitalization). The age bands available do not allow for a breakdown by minors only (0-17), and so the injury data in the table below is for ages 0-24. For the most recent data available (2010-2012), there were an average of 19 firearm accidental injuries a year for ages 0-24 – out of 1.23 million Oregonians aged 0-24. The top 5 causes of accidental injuries for ages 0-24 were falls (avg of 636 per year), motor vehicle traffic (avg of 458 per year), poisoning (avg of 269 per year), struck by/against (avg of 139 per year) and other transportation (avg of 123 per year).