The United States, with its weak gun laws, remains an exceptionally dangerous place for children. Approximately nine children and teenagers die every day from gun violence in America. In any given year, the U.S. loses more than 3,000 children and teens to gun violence; a number greater than the number of Americans that were killed in the 9/11 attacks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American children age 14 and below are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents.
A spate of recent tragedies reminds us that children remain vulnerable even when their parents are among the most highly qualified gun owners in America—concealed handgun permit holders. For years, the gun lobby has told us that permit holders are some of the most law-abiding and responsible citizens in the country. The problem is that in approximately 40 states, little is done in terms of screening or training requirements to assure that this is the case.
- On January 8, Jaritza Alvarado’s eight year-old son Jose found her 9mm handgun and tragically shot himself in the chest. Alvarado, a resident of Allentown, held a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Pennsylvania. The boy’s father told police that the previous night he had seen the gun on the dresser in the couple’s bedroom. Just before going to bed, he grabbed the weapon, loaded it, racked a round into the chamber, and placed it in a backpack on the floor of the room. That backpack belonged to Jose, who stored his video games inside it. The following morning, as his parents slept, Jose opened the backpack to find the handgun sitting on top of his games. He fatally shot himself, waking them up immediately. After searching the home, police found an extra gun magazine in a kitchen cabinet, next to a two-liter bottle of soda that had a hidden compartment used to store cocaine.
- Marine Sergeant Colton Lumon was at home with his wife and two daughters on February 21. As nine month-old Makenna sat in her high chair eating fruit, Colton practiced drawing and “dry firing” his handgun at candles across the room. During one draw he applied too much pressure to the weapon and it accidentally discharged, striking Makenna in the hand and head. She was pronounced dead two hours later. Colton had a permit to carry a concealed handgun in Virginia and told police he kept his weapon loaded with a bullet in the chamber at all times.
- On February 27, 11 year-old Randy Reddick, Jr. was accidentally shot and killed in front of his home in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Earlier that day, his father, Randy Reddick, Sr.—a concealed handgun permit holder—had removed his 40-caliber Glock pistol and placed it in the center console of his truck before entering the post office. When the family returned home later that day, Randy Sr. sent Randy Jr. and his 10 year-old son outside to get his coat from the truck. The 10 year-old found the gun, which had been left in the truck, and accidentally shot his brother in the head, killing him instantly.
None of the three states in which these tragedies occurred—Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida—require any real training for concealed handgun permit holders. Pennsylvania requires no training whatsoever. Virginia requires applicants to take a one-hour online test (applicants watch a 1/2-hour video and then answer a 20-question multiple-choice test at the website). Florida requires three hours of classroom instruction. Once satisfied a single time, the Virginia and Florida requirements are good for life. Additionally, none of these states have any mandatory safe storage requirements for firearms kept in homes where minors are present.
The results, sadly, are predictable: Unnecessary and heartbreaking tragedies that claim the most precious and vulnerable members of our society. We could—and should—be doing a lot more to protect children like Jose Alvarado, Makenna Lumon and Randy Rennick, Jr. It is a stain on our nation’s conscience that we are not.