After a rural Kentucky family suffered an unspeakable gun tragedy late last month, that sad story, unfortunately, became new fuel for the scorching debate over gun control. When news broke that 5-year-old Kristian Sparks had shot his 2-year-old sister with a rifle he had been given as a gift, opposing factions latched on to either defend rural America’s gun culture or to denounce it.
Having grown up in Alabama, steeped in the Deep South’s gun culture, I feel nothing but sympathy for the Sparks family. One child is dead; another will be scarred for life by his horrible mistake. And Caroline Sparks is just one of many: The careless handling of guns sends Americans to their graves with mind-numbing frequency.
Indeed, in the days since she died, other children have been wounded or killed in accidental shootings. On May 1, 3-year-old Darrien Nez shot himself dead with his grandmother’s handgun in Yuma, AZ. On May 4, a 13-year-old boy in Oakland Park, FL accidentally shot his 6-year-old sister in the chest, injuring her critically.
That, by the way, is just a partial list. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an average of eight Americans under the age of 20 are killed by firearms every day. While urban children are more likely to be homicide victims, Brady says, rural children are more likely to be suicides or victims of accidental shootings.
But the mindless political punches and counterpunches, finger-pointing and blame-assessing do little to curb the death toll. If concerned grownups really want to save children from accidental gun discharges, we ought to separate those gun accidents from the broader debate over gun control, which is hopelessly mired in partisan madness.
Instead, let’s discuss this as a child-safety issue. There are plenty of precedents in American cultural history for focusing on child safety even if it impinges on the convenience of adults. One of the best examples is the decades-long crusade to make child-safety seats a familiar part of child care.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy to bring some common-sense child-safety measures — legally enforceable measures — to routine gun use. There are many factions who are eager to keep any discussion of guns locked into a doctrinaire set of talking points. And, of course, the most ferocious and fanatical factions of the gun lobby — notably the National Rifle Association — will have no use for even the mildest reforms aimed at stemming the carnage.