I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
America will mourn the loss of life at the Pulse Club shooting in Orlando until it fades into the fog of another gun-fuelled atrocity; and there will be another, and another after that.
In October 2015, a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon in a now-forgotten outrage. At the time, luminaries hoping to become United States president offered little comfort. Jeb Bush delivered the penetrating analysis that “stuff happens.” Donald Trump, so at home with deep philosophical concepts, said “Let me tell you, if you had a couple teachers with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.”
With that kind of thinking, there’s little hope of finding a solution to America’s gun problem. The introduction to the gun culture starts early and leads to terrible tragedies for some children.
Finding New Markets
With 124 firearms in private hands for every 100 adult Americans perhaps gun makers sense they might be getting close to market saturation.
What to do? What to do? Somewhere in the merchandising boiler room that powers the $6 billion industry someone had an “Aha” moment. Our fictional pitchman makes his case: “Why don’t we market guns to children? There are more than 60 million nippers under the age of 14. That’s a huge untapped market and once hooked on firearms we’ll have customers for life. Of course, in the case of some of the little tykes that won’t be very long.” And, that takes us to several communities in the United States.
Tragedy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Mountain Village Alaska, and Toms River, New Jersey, and …
Children Killing Children
In the year after the December 2012 killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, at least 100 other children died from accidental gunfire.
White Pine, Tennessee is a small town in the eastern part of the state. On October 3, 2015 an 11-year-old boy asked his eight-year-old neighbour if he could see her brand new puppy. McKayla Dyer said “no,” so the boy went home, picked up his father’s 12-gauge shotgun and blasted away the little girl’s life.
In April 2014, 11-year-old Jamara Stevens and her three siblings were playing with a gun in their home in the Mantua section of Philadelphia. Jamara’s two-year-old brother picked up the .357 calibre handgun and “KABOOM.”
The weapon had been left on top of the refrigerator by the boyfriend of the children’s mother. Mom was in the bathroom when the kids found the gun.
On April 30, 2013, an eight-year-old boy shot and killed his five-year-old sister in the small community of Mountain Village, Alaska. Same scenario: unsupervised kids, loaded gun, dead child.
This calamity came less than a month after The New York Times reported “A six-year-old New Jersey boy died on Tuesday after being shot in the head a day earlier by his four-year-old neighbor while they were playing outside …”
Guns for Toddlers
Be the envy of Grade One and pack heat to the classroom.
What’s a suitable birthday gift for a five-year-old boy? Board game? Action figure? Matchbox cars? For the grandmother of Kristian Parks of Burkesville, Kentucky the answer was a gun; a Crickett .22 rifle made by the Keystone Sporting Arms of Milton, Pennsylvania. Then, in the inimitable words of Jeb Bush, stuff happened.
The gun has a nice child-friendly name and there’s a picture of a Jiminy Cricket-style character to go along with the branding. The Crickett rifle stock comes in a variety of colours: camouflage, black, and blue are likely choices for boys; there’s pink for girls aspiring to become an Annie Oakley; and, there’s a patriotic red, white, and, blue version. The company makes another model, also with a cartoon character-evoking name, the Chipmunk rifle.
Associated Press notes that Keystone “has a ‘Kids Corner’ on its website with pictures of young boys and girls at shooting ranges and on bird and deer hunts. It says the company produced 60,000 Crickett and Chipmunk rifles for kids in 2008.”
Marlin Firearms of Madison, North Carolina shuns the cutesy names for its youth weapons. The company promotes its model XT-22 Youth Series as a way for proud Moms and Dads to “Pass on your love of shooting and hunting to the next generation, and give them the right start with this new line of rifles.”
America’s Gun Culture
Isn’t the idea that having more guns around will make people safer like saying if you want to lose weight you should eat more potato chips?
The belief that it is a God-given right to own firearms is rooted in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution of 1791. It says “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The argument that the second amendment refers only to militias has been tested in courts.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to “keep and bear arms” was not limited to members of a military group. So, that right extends to all citizens of the United States to have guns in their homes for self defence.
This is the common belief in places such as the community in which five-year-old Kristian Sparks killed his two-year-old sister; where Cumberland County Coroner Gary White says “Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”
Or, The Associated Press reports that Kentucky is a place “where some children get their first guns even before they start first grade.”
Or, Cumberland County Judge Executive John Phelps says “It’s a normal way of life, and it’s not just rural Kentucky, it’s rural America - hunting and shooting and sport fishing. It starts at an early age. There’s probably not a household in this county that doesn’t have a gun.”
Gun ownership is seen as a birthright and an enthusiast will only give up his or her firearm when, in the words of a National Rifle Association slogan, “… you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
For people not raised in the gun culture the attitude of the firearm enthusiasts is incomprehensible. Equally, gun owners are perplexed as to why anybody would see wisdom in increasing regulation of their weapons.
The two sides live in separate silos and no amount of debate will persuade either that their opponents’ argument has a scintilla of merit. There seems to be an unbridgeable divide between the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies.
The kind of tragedies cited above are often the result of atrociously dreadful parenting and guns can’t be blamed for that, says the gun culture.
True, say opponents, but what if the guns hadn’t been around in the first place?
To the outside observer giving guns to children borders on insanity. Society restricts the age at which youngsters can drive a vehicle, or buy alcohol or tobacco, or engage in other potentially dangerous pursuits. But guns, it seems, exist in a different realm surrounded by a patriotic mythology that rational discourse cannot penetrate.
Children shooting children has become almost as American as apple pie and the Pledge of Allegiance to the National Rifle Association.
Patrice Price, 26, of Milwaukee, was driving along a highway in April 2016. Her two-year-old son was in the back seat. He picked up a gun that was lying on the floor. His mother died at the scene.
As of mid-June 2016, the Gun Violence Archive reports 23,962 incidents for the year in the U.S., causing 6,148 deaths. Children under 11 years of age accounted for 260 of the killed and injured.
In the week after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton in August 2019 the sales of bullet-proof backpacks for children rose by 200 to 300 percent, says CNN.
- “100 Children Died In Unintentional Shootings In Year After Newtown.” Sam Stein, Huffington Post, June 25, 2014.
- “Mom at Home When 11-Year-Old Daughter Shot, Killed: Police.” David Chang and Alison Burdo, NBC10 Philadelphia, April 5, 2014.
- “Boy, 11, Charged with Murder in Tennessee 8-year-old’s Death.” CBS News, October 5, 2015.
- “Girl’s Death by Gunshot Is Rejected as Symbol.” Trip Gabriel, New York Times, May 5, 2013.
- “4-year-old Boy Fatally Shoots 6-year-old in New Jersey.” Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, April 9, 2013.
- “Ky. Child Shooting Part of Urban-rural Gun Debate.” Travis Loller and Dylan Lovan, Associated Press, May 1, 2013.
- “5-year-old Shoots, Kills 2-year-old: In Kentucky, Kids Get Guns Early.”Associated Press, May 2, 2013.
- “Mother Fatally Shot by Two-year-old Son from the Back Seat of Car in Milwaukee.” Associated Press, April 28, 2016.
- Gun Violence Archive 2016.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor