Safe Storage Laws Save Lives
The recent school shooting in Michigan is a tragic example of why parents need to be held accountable for allowing children and teens to access firearms.
On November 26, 2021, a 15-year-old and his father went to pick out his Christmas present: a 9mm Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun.
Four days later, the sophomore allegedly retrieved the gun from the unlocked dresser in his parent’s bedroom, took it to his high school in Oxford, Michigan, and shot one teacher and 10 of his classmates, four, fatally.
Like many shootings in this country, this tragedy was entirely preventable.
Michael C. Monuteaux, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Association of Increased Safe Household Firearm Storage With Firearm Suicide and Unintentional Death Among US Youths,” JAMA Pediatrics (2019).
Media coverage has centered around the role the parents played in buying a firearm for their minor son, who likely exhibited some warning signs of violence, and allowing him unrestricted access to it. In a rare move, prosecutors have charged the parents with involuntary manslaughter.
We don’t know whether or not the parents will be found guilty of these charges. But what is clear is that Michigan does not have a safe storage or child access prevention law that might have prevented this shooting or, at least, provided a clear way to hold the parents accountable for enabling it.
My job is to analyze gun laws—what works, what doesn’t, what could be better.
What makes these shootings even harder for me to stomach is knowing that there weren’t policies in place to prevent it. Here’s how we change that.
What Are Safe Storage and Child Access Prevention Laws?
Safe storage laws require gun owners to keep their firearms stored in a gun safe or with a locking device when they are not under their immediate control. Eleven states require that locking devices be sold with a gun but no requirement that they be used, while five states require guns out of a person’s immediate control be locked under all or some circumstances.
Michigan prohibits a federally licensed firearms dealer from selling a firearm unless the sale includes a commercially available trigger lock or gun case.Read More
Child access prevention laws make adults criminally liable for leaving firearms accessible to minors. The strongest of these laws, California’s, holds adults accountable regardless of whether a minor actually accesses the gun or uses it to injure or kill another person. The weakest, Georgia’s, merely prohibits parents or guardians from directly providing a firearm to a minor. Twenty-eight other states have laws that fall somewhere between these two.
Around 4.6 million minors in the US live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms. And every year, I read heartbreaking stories about children and teens who find these firearms and use them on themselves or others, both intentionally and unintentionally. This has to stop.
We Need to Better Protect Our Nation’s Children
The question isn’t how do we keep our kids safe from gun violence. The question is when will our leaders find the courage to enact these lifesaving policies.
Studies show that suicides and unintentional shootings increase in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked. We also know that when youth do use firearms to commit violence against themselves or others, they nearly always get those guns from their home or the homes of relatives or friends.
Safe storage and child access prevention laws are quite effective, however. Numerous studies have found that they can reduce suicide and unintentional gun deaths among children and teens by up to 54%. Estimates suggest that even modest increases in the number of American homes safely storing firearms could prevent almost a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional firearm injury.
There are currently two bills that would create child access prevention laws pending in the Michigan state legislature (HB 5066/SB 553). To prevent tragedies like the shooting at Oxford High School from happening again, as well as the much more frequent types of gun violence that take the lives of our young people, legislators in Michigan and around the country must pass these types of laws. And states that have weaker versions of the law should put pen to paper and strengthen them.
As adults, we are responsible for the safety and well-being of our children. The evidence is clear: unsecured guns in the home pose a serious threat to their lives. Legislators should stop sacrificing our children’s lives to pander to gun extremists who misidentify guns with freedom, and start putting children first.
The gun safety movement is on the march: Americans from different background are united in standing up for safer schools and communities. Join us to make your voice heard and power our next wave of victories.GET INVOLVED