Mandatory Gun Storage is Dangerous
by Ari Armstrong, January 30, 2001
Ken Gordon's Senate bill 160 claims to be about "safe storage of firearms." In reality it is a cynical political move which discriminates against lawful gun owners. The bill will not save lives, but will instead empower criminals by discouraging responsible self-defense.
Mandatory gun storage laws have already been tried in other states. They have failed miserably. In his comprehensive study More Guns, Less Crime, Yale scholar John Lott finds "no support for the theory that safe-storage laws reduce either juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides. Instead, these storage requirements appear to impair people's ability to use guns defensively." Indeed, during the five years following the passage of such laws, and taking into account preexisting trends, Lott finds the laws resulted in 300 additional murders; 3,860 more rapes; 24,650 more robberies; and 25,000 more assaults (2nd Ed., page 201).
One legislator calls mandatory storage laws the "Rapist Protection Act," a view supported by the evidence. Others have referred to such laws as "lock up your safety" requirements.
Gordon's bill is not as onerous as those found in some states. Whereas some laws absolutely require a gun to be rendered useless for self-defense, Gordon's proposal requires criminal penalties if a juvenile gains access to a gun. Yet the sole result of the bill would be to empower criminals and endanger Coloradans.
The language of the proposal is vague and will be used to harass honest gun owners. It says "'negligently store' means to place or leave a firearm in a location where a reasonable person would find a substantial and unjustifiable risk exists that a juvenile would obtain possession of such firearm." Unfortunately, laws aren't enforced by a "reasonable person," they are enforced by politically motivated prosecutors and their hand-picked "juries." The law makes no exception for theft. Even if a gun owner keeps a gun behind two locked doors, he or she is still at risk of prosecution if the gun is stolen. The bill would have a chilling effect on the right of self-defense.
Of course Big Brother politicians like Ken Gordon like to pretend everything will be okay if only we'll let government take care of us. Gordon completely ignores the benefits of firearms for self-defense. Despite the evidence that storage laws kill people, some politicians continue to advocate them for political advantage. No doubt Mike Feeley's Democrats will send out misleading flyers in the next elections accusing the supporters of civil arms of putting guns in the hands of unsupervised children. Not only do such politicians lie about the benefits of their proposals, but they ignore the high costs of them.
The truth is that child abuse is already against the law. Colorado Statute 18-6-401(1)(a) states, "A person commits child abuse if such person causes an injury to a child's life or health, or permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child's life or health, or engages in a continued pattern of conduct that results in malnourishment, lack of proper medical care, cruel punishment, mistreatment, or an accumulation of injuries that ultimately results in the death of a child or serious bodily injury to a child." In addition, irresponsible persons are subject to civil liability.
In other words, the law already takes care of the problem Gordon claims to address. The difference is that existing law doesn't discriminate against one class of citizens. In 1996 for the nation, 138 children ages 0-14 died of unintentional gun fire. The same year, 211 children died of choking, 761 of burns, 981 of drowning, and 3,015 of car crashes (National Safety Council). So why isn't Gordon drafting specific "safe storage" language for matches, buckets, swimming pools, cars, and throat-sized objects?
Those 138 deaths are tragic, and of course we all want to help prevent them. (According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, Colorado suffered 17 accidental deaths for children ages 1-16 between the years of 1990 and 1994.) Fortunately, unintentional gun deaths have declined over the last century for all ages, falling from 3.1 per 100,000 in 1903 to 0.3 per 100,000 in 1998. But we can do better. One program with demonstrated results is the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program, which instructs young children to not touch a gun and to tell an adult. If Gordon wants to do something to improve safety, why doesn't he require such instruction in our schools?
In a utopian world, all we'd have to do to save lives is write up a piece of paper and get it signed by the governor. In the real world, it isn't that easy. The much higher figures of "child deaths" trotted out by the anti-gun lobby actually represent gang homicides. Surely Gordon doesn't imagine that his storage bill will affect that problem. Nor would it solve the existing problems of unintentional deaths. Many unintentional child deaths are at the hands of adults, the same sort of irresponsible adults who won't even know about Gordon's bill, much less obey it.
Gordon's bill takes a bizarre turn when it states the law "shall not apply if the juvenile obtains possession of the firearm... in the lawful act of self-defense." But by then it's too late. Just ask Jessica Lynne Carpenter, a 14 year old from California, a state with "lock up your safety" laws. When a deranged man broke into her home wielding a pitchfork, Jessica was unable to access her father's firearm, even though she is a well-trained shooter. The man used his pitchfork to murder Jessica's two younger siblings, John William and Ashley Danielle, ages 7 and 9. Because of mindless disarmament laws, Jessica was reduced to waiting around for the police to show up with the body bags.
Previously, Democrats would say we shouldn't regulate personal decisions in the bedroom. Apparently for Gordon that rationale doesn't hold if the target of discrimination is gun owners.