Putting a gun in a child’s hand should be a crime

By Albert de Zutter

What evil maniac thought up the idea of a child’s first .22 caliber rifle? And what kind of parents would give a child a firearm for his fifth birthday? That act is, on its face, an act of child endangerment. That child with his firearm instantly becomes a hazard to himself and any other children he encounters; and, of course, his irresponsible parents.

Who manufactures and sells such a weapon? Is there any 5-year-old in existence who could own a lethal firearm responsibly? Of course not! A 5-year-old shouldn’t have a BB gun, much less a rifle that shoots live ammunition.

Nevertheless, on April 30, 2013, in Burkesville, Ky., 2-year-old Caroline Sparks was killed by a .22 caliber bullet fired from a child-sized rifle held by her 5-year-old brother. The rifle, called the “Crickett,” was manufactured by Keystone Sporting Arms and marketed for the child trade as “My First Rifle.”

Said Kentucky State Trooper Billy Gregory, “In this part of the country it’s not uncommon for a 5-year-old to have a gun.”

County Coroner Gary White, perhaps hoping to soften the blow of the tragedy, was quoted, indirectly, as saying that the boy was playing with it (his gun) when it accidentally went off and killed his sister.

“It” accidentally went off. Here, at last, was an admission by a probable supporter of the NRA that a gun actually killed a baby girl. But, of course, that cannot be the whole story. It was a single-shot .22 caliber rifle. It was loaded. And somebody must have pulled the trigger.

Has the insanity of the American gun culture penetrated so deeply that we think it’s “cute” that a 5-year-old can have his “first gun,” a firearm built to the scale of a child? Mr. Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the National Rifle Association, scoffed at those who called him crazy. Well, he may not be crazy, but what’s left of his conscience has to be grossly calloused over so that it’s no longer functioning — at least not on the subject of guns. Mr. LaPierre’s solution to the problem of gun deaths in the United States is more guns: “The only solution to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.” Is LaPierre one of the good guys?

An ABC News story by Kevin Dolak quotes Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, as saying that there is a wide range of gun marketing targeted at youth.” The reason, Sugarmann said, is that “The gun industry and gun ownership is declining. It has been for decades, and like tobacco, the industry needs new customers.” He said the gun industry’s marketing to youth has increased over the last 15 years.

The fact that the gun ownership is declining appears to fly in the face of the huge increase in gun sales as a result of right-wing propaganda arousing fear that the Obama administration “is out to get your guns.” But those sales appear to be mainly to existing gun owners rather than to new households. The Violence Policy Center has stated that from 1977 to 2010 the percentage of households that reported having any guns in the home dropped more than 40 percent.

Over the long run that trend could be good news for those who support reasonable gun safety regulations. It could also explain the frenzied reaction to reasonable regulations by the NRA and those who do its bidding in the Congress. They are afraid that the gun industry’s profits will eventually dry up unless youth is enticed to become as gun crazy as many of their elders.

In the meantime, however, we are experiencing a plague of firearm deaths, including little children shooting other little children and a 4-year-old shooting and killing his mother.

The ABC News story quoted Sugarmann as saying that gun marketing to youth is industry-wide. Sugarmann said the remedy is legislation to keep guns out of the hands of youth. The laws for possession should mirror the laws for purchase, he said: “18 for long guns, 21 for handguns.”

“The idea of putting a gun into a child’s hand should be viewed as a crime,” he said.

Amen to that.