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Gun Ownership and Gun Safety

By Allan B. Colombo


A child is killed every two hours from a gun in the home. Can you fathom a more horrible way to die than by a large-caliber bullet? From time to time, we read in the newspapers about young children who are either seriously injured or killed by the handguns that adults carelessly leave loaded and laying around their homes. For those of us who take special care to secure our guns from our children, these tragic events are quite unnecessary.

Casondra Eddy was 10 years old when her cousin accidently shot her with her father's handgun. According to the newspaper account, "Casandra was shot at approximately 2:00 P.M. at her parents' home.... Her cousin, age 12, who was visiting, pointed a .380 caliber pistol, thinking it to be unloaded, at Casandra, firing one shot that penetrated her neck."[1] The .380-caliber bullet caused irreparable damage to her spinal cord and the nerves in her arm.

According to the father, Ms. Eddy's cousin had removed the clip from the gun. Thinking that it was unloaded, he then pointed the gun at Ms. Eddy and pulled the trigger--probably to frighten her. The cousin did not know that although the clip that holds the bullets is removed from a gun, that, in most cases, there is still a bullet left in the chamber.

Fortunately, unlike many children who are shot at point-blank range, Ms. Eddy lived through it. However, her life, according to her father, has been forever changed. Over the last year, she has experienced more pain and suffering, not to mention therapy, than most people do in a life time.

Whether you talk to a gun opponent or a gun advocate, no one enjoys hearing about this kind of child-related tragedy. Everyone concerned would rather that these events never take place. It's how to accomplish this that both sides have problems agreeing on.

The most staunch of gun opponents, for example, would like to see gun ownership entirely eliminated within the United States. In their way of thinking, only police officers, U.S. military personnel and special governmental groups should have the right to own and carry firearms.

On the other side of the issue, staunch gun advocates oppose the elimination of gun ownership. Instead, they would rather see the constitutional right to bear arms upheld. The right to own a gun should, instead, be taken away from the individual who abuses his/her right to own a gun. This would include those who carelessly leave their loaded guns around the house when they are used in an accidental shooting. This kind of legislation already exists in some states, and in others, it pertains more to those who use a firearm in the commission of a felony crime.

Just how serious is the gun situation in the United States? Is it serious enough that guns should be banned altogether? In 1993, there were 4.4 million crimes of violence, which included rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault, and robbery. About 29% of the victims of these crimes, or 1.3 million people, said that their assailant was armed when they were victimized.[2]

The most often handgun used in the city of Philadelphia, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Unersity of Pennsylvania Medical Center, is the 9-mm pistol. The .380 caliber revolver was the second most used handgun.

Handguns Most Used in Philadelphia
9 mmPistol23

McGonigal Study at the University
of Pennsylvania Medical Center

If guns were outlawed altogether, would the problem stop? Chances are, fewer children would probably fall victim to a firearm in the home because eventually the number of firearms in homes would diminish. However, there is little doubt in my mind that criminals would continue to have and use firearms. In fact, if guns were entirely eliminated from U.S. homes altogether, criminals would probably be more apt to break into homes because they would know the chances of being shot by a homeowner are less.

My assessment is based on the fact that since 1899, more than 223 million guns have become available to U.S. citizens in the U.S.[2] Seventy nine million of them are rifles, 77 million are handguns and 66 million are shotguns. More than 40 million handguns alone were produced within the U.S. since 1973. The exact number of firearms lost, destroyed or now inoperative is not known, but there are certainly far too many firearms now in the hands of U.S. citizens for the elimination of gun ownership to really be effective.

Another aspect of this issue that must be considered is how criminals get their guns. Statistics show, for example, that there are more than 341,000 incidents of stolen firearms from U.S. citizens every year.[2] Because many people have more than one gun, it's likely that the number of firearms stolen far exceed this figure. The FBI's National Crime Information Center also reports that there were more than 2 million reports of stolen guns as of March, 1995. Of this number, 1.26 million were handguns, 470,000 were rifles and 356,000 were shotguns.[2]

Handguns Most Frequently Reported Stolen
9 mmSemiauto111,5588.8

Federal Bureau of Investigation,
National Crime Information Center

Who's the most likely group to be injured by a firearm? "Males, young persons, blacks, Hispanics, residents of Central cities, and the poor tend to have higher rates of victimization than persons who do not possess these characteristics,"[4] says Lisa Bastian, Statistician, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Michael R. Rand, statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, says that males are twice as likely as females and blacks are three times as likely as whites to become a handgun victim.[3]

Whether you stand for or against gun ownership, the fact remains that everyone who owns a firearm should take care that these guns remain unloaded and unavailable to children in the home. Gun owners should also thoroughly understand the principles behind gun safety and we should not hesitate to teach our children the same. Not only does this assure that our children respect the deadly power behind these weapons, but it will also assure that if they ever do own a gun that they will handle it in a safe manner.

Even those of us who do not have a gun should take the time to understand gun safety, just in case we should unexpectedly happen upon one or we encounter someone who carelessly displays a firearm to us. My own father taught me about guns when I was 8 or 10 years old. I bought my first 22-caliber, semi-automatic rifle when I was 16. Not only did his instruction put the fear of God in me concerning the deadly force behind these weapons, but it also taught me how to use them in a safe manner. Most of all, he taught me that the most dangerous gun of all is the "unloaded" one.

In the next article, Nick Markowitz presents common-sense guidelines for handling guns. This article is written in such a manner that even those who have no gun experience will gain a better understanding of firearms and how to handle them in a safe manner. I trust that you'll take the time to read it. --Al Colombo


[1] The Press News, The Alliance Review, Alliance, Ohio, February 16, 1995.

[2] Guns Used In Crime, Marianne W. Zawitz, National Crime Victimization Survey, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., July 1995.

[3] Guns and Crime, Michael R. Rand, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., April 1994.

[4] Criminal Victimization 1993, Lisa Bastian, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., May 1995.

Editor's Note: This Editorial first appeared in the March, 1996 issue of the Safety & Security [electronic] Magazine.

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