Editorials

How many kids have to get shot before more gun owners step up, secure their weapons?

If three children were shot at a Tarrant County school or store, the reaction would be intense, with calls for new gun laws and debates about how to keep weapons out of dangerous hands.

Similar attention must be paid to what happened last weekend, when two children in Arlington and one in Fort Worth were accidentally shot.

The details vary. In the Fort Worth incident, a 5-year-old found a gun and fatally shot his 4-year-old brother. In one Arlington shooting, a 10-year-old shot his younger brother in the head, and another child was hit with shrapnel. And in the other, the injured child may have sat on an illegal weapon that was out in the open.

The common thread, though, is unsecured guns that shouldn’t have ever been around the children in the first place.

And sadly, while three in one county in one day is unusual, accidental shootings of children are not. Eight children are shot every day with an improperly stored gun, according to Brady, the gun-control advocacy group, which examined federal gun-violence data and emergency room surveys.

It’s unacceptable, and policymakers, law enforcement and gun owners must get serious about it.

First, some tough love is needed. More gun owners who fail to secure their weapons must face prosecution. Under state law, failure to secure a loaded weapon that a child fires and causes injury or death can be punished by a yearlong jail sentence and a fine of up to $4,000.

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Some will say that parents have suffered enough when their child is injured or killed. And sure, if the danger to their children wasn’t enough to compel them to practice gun safety, neither will the threat of jail time. But prosecution may deter others from being too casual with their weapons, and they would make a statement about how serious Texas takes the issue.

In an August shooting that injured two kids, the father, who was a felon who should not have had a gun, was charged. But in the Fort Worth death over the weekend, police have already said no charges will be filed for now.

Prosecution is important, but education has a major role to play, too. Cook Children’s Hospital runs an innovative program that encourages parents to teach their children that guns are dangerous and not to handle one if they find it.

The program includes simulations that should shock responsible parents — most kids who find a disabled gun in a staged setting handle it, Dr. Dan Guzman, the emergency room physician behind the initiative, told WFAA last year.

Guzman urges parents to take steps to secure guns, either by storing them in safes or using trigger locks. If children are visiting friends, he advocates asking fellow parents about whether their guns are secured. That might seem awkward, and no one is suggesting a confrontation over gun rights, but peer pressure can a powerful tool.

This isn’t about new laws restricting gun purchases, but gun-rights advocates should take the issue seriously. If these kind of completely preventable shootings continue, the clamor for new restrictions will rise. Most gun owners understand that the right comes with a responsibility, and they must be vigilant about safety.

Texas is awash in guns. That won’t change any time soon. So we should all take steps to ensure Tarrant County doesn’t have another weekend full of tragedies involving children.

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