Children With Guns

A four-year-old Florida girl, Yanelly Zoller, goes rummaging in her grandmother’s purse for candy and accidentally discharges the gun carried there. The gunshot enters her body, killing her.

A two-year-old accidentally shoots his sleeping father in the neck, fatally, in St. Louis, Missouri. Another St. Louis boy, three days later, this one four years old, accidentally shoots himself in the mouth. He survives.

In Dearborn, Michigan, two three-year-old boys are shot accidentally by another toddler with a gun he found in their home-based daycare, one in the face and one in the arm. They survive.

A three-year-old boy in Ohio accidentally shoots himself, fatally, with a gun he found in his father’s van.

All of these incidents happened in the last ten days.

The boys in Michigan were the 42nd and 43rd people this year to get shot by a toddler in the United States, where it happens a little more than once a week. The trauma a fatal shooting like this, as with the boy in St.Louis who shot his father, leaves behind, is surely unimaginable. So far this year, 17 shootings by toddlers have resulted in a fatality.

As an example of the suffering that radiates outward from these events, witness events earlier this month in South Carolina when 2-year-old Kyree Myers found a loaded gun at his home and fatally shot himself in the head. Police arrived to find the boy’s father, Keon Myers, distraught and suicidal. Despite officers’ attempts to stop him, Myers then shot himself in the head as well. Myers and his son were pronounced dead at a hospital.

The above only deals with one kind of trauma caused to children by guns, of course. As a search of the Gun Violence Archive will tell you, scores of children have been shot by adults this year in the US, intentionally or unintentionally. Just in the last three days, an eight-year-old boy was shot in Augusta, Georgia; another eight-year-old was shot in the chest while playing shoot-the-can with a group in Cleveland, Texas; and an eight-year-old girl was shot by an unknown assailant in Missouri, St. Louis. That does not count the children whose parents, or siblings, or relatives are shot down. It doesn’t count the children who will be scarred by the fifty-nine people recently gunned down at a music festival by a lone shooter taking aim from a hotel window in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Reading the first stories above, one would reasonably conclude that children cannot be trusted with guns. What should surprise us, though, is why anyone reading the stories in the last paragraph would think adults can be.

Most of the developed world thinks that adults can be trusted with guns very little if at all; the United States stands practically alone in thinking that society will be safer and more just if humans have access to more small portable killing machines.

Guns are a tool of last resort. Difficult to use properly, liable to cause accidental injury, aside from their statistically much less relevant use for hunting, their only purpose is to injure human beings so traumatically they will at best require hospitalization and, at worse will die.

Surely it is reasonable to think they should only be wielded by people who have undergone extensive training, not only in their use but also in ways to de-escalate conflict or resolve crisis situations without using them.

Yet some people persist in arguing that they need to buy and own them for self-protection, despite the fact that the statistics argue that owning a gun makes you less safe.

Despite the fact that experts point out that most gun owners are so unready to actually use a weapon for self-defense effectively that they might as well not own one.

Surely if someone did the kind of research into buying a gun that one might expend on buying a car or an IPhone one would come across these facts.

I suspect, though, that when one wants to buy a gun, one is disinclined to investigate the information which would throw cold water on the hot urge to own a few powerful inches of steel.

The metal tool, either gleaming or midnight dark, with its promise of deadly force, seems a locus of absolute power- power over others lives, power to maintain one’s own life. This promise, together with the self-aggrandizing myth that one would be able to wield it as effectively as a knight his sword, is intoxicating.

With this I am safe. With this small metal icon of charged, raw power, no one can mess with me. The fact that this is not true- that carrying a gun is more like carrying a dangerous, chaotic jack-in-the-box that could rip through your life like a landmine, is closer to the truth but is ignored- ignored until your four-year-old stumbles across it and accidentally pulls the trigger, that is.

As one of the best essays on Quora ever written (by an ex-Marine) argues, even if you were to use a gun to defend yourself against an intruder, that same gun would still be sitting in your house, in your car, or on your person unused, a lethal danger to anyone who came across it, 99.99% of the time you own it.

In fact, the same essay goes on, the gun is either a lethal danger to yourself and others, or it is stored properly. If it is stored properly, however, your chances of getting to it in time before the imaginary violent intruder gets to you are vanishingly small. Better to spend the time calling 911.

The belief in guns persists, however, and with that belief, their easy availability. What is the role of government in such a situation? Pirke Avot, the ancient Jewish ethical text, says, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for it people would swallow each other alive.”

As this text so baldly states, the purpose of the government is to protect people from each other. (The idea that guns must be available so people can protect themselves from the government is ludicrous. The American government will not be stopped by your machine gun, not even by the fourteen machine guns Stephen Paddock had stockpiled in his house.) What possible legitimate rationale could the government have, then, for arming its citizenry?

None. The role of the government is clearly to protect its citizens from those with guns, and to try to limit the amount of guns in circulation.

Today I was walking down the street and saw a bus stop add for the TV show Lethal Weapon, showcasing its two heroes walking towards the viewer, guns held at their side. The heroes of the show are, of course, the “lethal weapons”, and this is strangely meant as a compliment.

I was reminded of another ancient Jewish text, the Mishna (Shabbat 6:4), which debates whether or not a person can wear a weapon on the Sabbath, the holy day of rest. One Rabbi suggests that they may wear it because it is not a tool of work on that day, but an “ornament”, like the makers of Lethal Weapon and a million other action movie posters suggest with their prominently displayed metal shafts.

Another Rabbi disagrees, however, saying that a weapon is not an ornament but “a shameful thing”. To prove it, he quotes Isaiah’s vision of God’s desire for the future: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not take up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.   

Gun enthusiasts are always pointing out that it is “not guns that kill, people do.” They are exactly right. It is us, with our hearts too liable to careen into lethal passions, us that kill, not the guns.

Yet that is exactly why we should not be trusted with them. In the end, the guns are surely innocent, just crafted pieces of metal. As long as we remain children, however, and the evidence suggests that most of us still have a lot of growing up to do, liberal gun laws are themselves deadly, and any American citizen can turn out all too easily to be a very lethal weapon.

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