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Valley Perspective

Unauthorized Access Is the Problem; Limits Are a Solution

It is too easy for kids to obtain firearms. The $5 it would cost for a safety device is a small price to pay to save a life.

May 09, 1999|JACK SCOTT | Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Pasadena) is chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence

In 1982, our country faced a public health nightmare. Seven Americans were killed with cyanide-laced Tylenol tablets in a few short days.

In response to these tragic deaths, our government quickly developed and enacted standards requiring tamper-resistant packaging for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and food products. These standards were researched and put into place in just 37 days.

The seven Americans who died from Tylenol poisoning represent only 7% of the people who died from unintentional shootings in California in 1997. Yet California still has no standards for firearm safety devices or a requirement that such devices be sold with firearms.

Unfortunately, the United States leads the industrialized world in the rates of children and youth lost to unintentional firearms-related death. In the United States, kids younger than 15 are killed accidentally by guns nine times more often than in 25 other industrialized nations.

Department of Health Services data show that unintentional shooting is a huge problem in California as well. From 1991 to 1997, 226 California children and 554 adults were shot and killed unintentionally, and more than 10 times as many people were injured. Tragically, in 1993, my son, Adam, was killed when someone mishandled a gun that the assailant assumed was unloaded.

It costs California approximately $18,000 in medical expenses to treat one gunshot victim. That means it cost $13,089,000 to treat individuals unintentionally shot by firearms in 1996 alone. Because 78% of those treated for gunshots either lack insurance or are on a county, state or military insurance program, California taxpayers spent more than $10 million to treat unintentional gunshot victims in 1996.

The recent campus carnage in Littleton, Colo., highlights both the problem and the solution to gun injury in California: It is too easy for children to gain access to firearms, and we must do something to end this access.

If we can adopt safety measures to prevent poisoning from over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, surely we can adopt standards that prevent unauthorized access to firearms.

Therefore, Assembly member Dion Aroner (D-Berkely), state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and I are carrying legislation that would do a great deal to prevent unintentional shootings by mandating that safety devices be sold with all firearms in California and requiring all firearms sold or transferred in California to come with the following warning label:

"Children are attracted to and can operate firearms that can cause severe injuries and death. Prevent child access by always keeping guns locked away and unloaded when not in use. If you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison."

Typically, potentially dangerous products sold in the United States are required to have safety devices and be accompanied by warning language, except for firearms. Unfortunately, the gun lobby has successfully blocked legislation in California to protect our children. Therefore, California legislators must step forward and prevent further gun violence in our state.

Devices such as trigger locks, chamber guards and load indicators should be tested by the Department of Justice and mandated for sale with all firearms.

Is the $5 cost of a safety device too much to pay to save a child's life? How many more children must die before we take this common-sense step?

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