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Blood-soaked playgrounds conjure up images of the innocent victims of war-torn nations in far-flung places. We as a nation have been slow to awaken to the urgency of the blood being spilled in our own backyard. Last week, a Michigan first grader shot and killed six-year old classmate Kayla Rolland, and in so doing, reminded us of our delinquency in responding to schoolyard shootings with adequate measures.
The massacre at Columbine High School and other school shootings in Oregon and Alabama cry out for introspection that should end in action, not argument. Children in the United States are nine times more likely to be killed by gunfire than what the combined probability is in the next top 25 industrial nations. Thirteen American children die in gun-related incidents daily. It is time to take decisive steps to curb this trend before more of our children are caught in the crossfire.
This week a bill on gun safety legislation will come before Congress. It stipulates the need for handguns equipped with child safety locks, mandatory three-day background checks for gun purchasers at gun shows and a ban on importation of large-capacity ammunition clips. The passage of such a bill is long overdue. Many senseless deaths happen every year because children play with guns obviously not intended for their use. Along with child safety locks, government funding should be provided for the development of "smart gun" technology which prevents everyone except the owner of a gun from using the weapon. And while the mandatory background check for purchasers at gun shows is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to redirect our current crash course towards more gun-related deaths. Anyone buying a gun should be subject to some background check and registered in a national database so that any gun used in a crime can be traced to its most recent owner.
Educational programs on handling guns properly should be mandated. Gun ownership needs to be regarded as an adult privilege, coupled with the care and maturity appropriate to both the nature of the tool and the age of the user. Many states require educational training in gun saftey before issuing hunting licenses; there is no reason why handgun owners should not be subjected to similar requirements. Citizens who profess their inability to own guns within such reasonable constraints are unlikely to have the understanding necessary for the wise use of a dangerous device like a firearm to begin with.
Factors underlying schoolyard shootings are often numerous and complex, and there is no simple solution. But stronger gun control legislation is a viable first step. Safety locks will it make handgun accidents less likely. Background checks will help prevent handguns from ending up in the wrong hands. Educational programs will create role models for children who might otherwise be given the chance to treat guns like toys.
Our children deserve our protection, protection that will only be sufficient with more stringent controls on gun availability.
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