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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.

For years now, the NRA has insisted that children ought to be armed for sport shooting right alongside their parents; it offers firearms safety courses as the surefire way to protect them from injury. However, while gun safety courses are a good idea, they are no substitute for age-appropriate gun handling, adult supervision or safe storage of firearms.

The availability of firearms courses may have lured some parents into a false sense of security, leading them to believe that preschool or elementary school-aged children can handle weapons prudently without supervision. That’s just ridiculous.

To reinforce that, we need an all-out crusade with an emphasis on proper supervision of the youngest sport shooters, as well as safe storage of weapons when they are not in use. Adults who fail in their responsibilities, allowing children to be hurt or killed, should face criminal sanctions in each and every case.

That won’t be an easy cultural shift: In homes already facing a tragedy, as the Sparkses do, local law enforcement officials will be reluctant to press charges. While national efforts to reinforce the shift can help, the best results will come from persistent and courageous efforts by local leaders, including state legislators, police, prosecutors and physicians.

My own father was a nut about gun safety — my brother didn’t get his first rifle until he was about 11, and he was closely supervised — but Dad’s conscientiousness didn’t extend to all my relatives. When I was 11, I picked up a loaded handgun off a bedside table at an uncle’s house and aimed it at my brother, then 2. I thought it was a toy.

I don’t know why I didn’t pull the trigger. My brother was saved by fate or caprice or the grace of God. Too many children don’t get that lucky.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Brittany Randolph via Flickr.com

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has been claiming that COVID-19 has been mostly defeated in the U.S. — which is laughable in light of how much infection rates have been surging, especially in Sun Belt states. But according to Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey, Team Trump has found a new coronavirus talking point: claiming that Americans can learn to live with the pandemic and the ever-climbing death count.

According to Abutaleb and Dawsey, the "goal" of Trump's White House and campaign allies "is to convince Americans that they can live with the virus — that schools should reopen, professional sports should return, a vaccine is likely to arrive by the end of the year, and the economy will continue to improve. White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House's thinking, who requested anonymity to reveal internal deliberations."

A Trump Administration senior official, quoted anonymously, told the Post that Americans will "live with the virus being a threat." And a former Trump official, according to the Post, said of Trump's allies, "They're of the belief that people will get over it, or if we stop highlighting it, the base will move on — and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day."



Figures from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore show that the coronavirus pandemic continues to be quite deadly — especially in the United States. As of Monday morning, July 6, Hopkins was reporting a worldwide COVID-19 death count of more than 534,800 — and almost 130,000 of those deaths were in the U.S.

Biden's campaign has been asserting that the former vice president has a much better track record than Trump when it comes to pandemics. Democratic strategist and Biden campaign adviser Ariana Berengaut told the Post, "From really January on, Vice President Biden has been laser focused on the rising risk to the American people presented by this pandemic. You can almost imagine them side by side — Trump's leadership and Biden's leadership…. Trump has no plan for tomorrow, no plan for a week from now; so, there is absolutely no plan for the fall, and that's what encapsulates the whole arc of that contrast."

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, told the Post that Trump's coronavirus response has been and continues to be an abysmal failure.

Garin asserted, "Trump is increasingly defined in voters' minds by his failing response to the coronavirus crisis, and virtually every action and position he's taken have been wildly out of sync with where the public is at on what should be done. Biden now has a remarkable opportunity to contrast himself with this failure of leadership that a large majority of voters see so clearly."