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December 22, 2008

What's NOT in Santa's Bag

I am a fan of old-time radio programs. Last night I was listening to the December 22, 1949, broadcast of the original “Dragnet” series. The story, based on a true event, was about a nine year-old boy who was given a rifle for Christmas. As he and his closest friend were playing with the gun, one of the boys tripped and fell. The gun went off and one of the boys was killed.

In the closing scene of the Dragnet episode, Sergeant Friday was asked, "What did we learn from this?" His stern reply: "You should never give a kid a gun for Christmas."

I couldn't help but reflect how many times I have heard or read similar stories. And I wonder how many times this holiday season that story will be repeated.

Here is my wish for you…that you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season…and may the coming New Year be one in which we can work together to rid our society of gun violence.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and a joyous Festivus for the rest of us.


  1. How about putting the numbers into perspective

    From this site: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/guns.htm

    * In 1999, 3,385 kids ages 0-19 years were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries.

    First, I love how "kids" now include people aged 18 & 19. Amazing how those numbers have to be stretched to make a point.

    * This is equivalent to about 9 deaths per day, a figure commonly used by journalists.

    Notice how they don't break down the numbers to explain those deaths yet. Must be dramatic to show the impact of firearms right?

    * The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
    o 214 unintentional
    o 1,078 suicides
    o 1,990 homicides
    o 83 for which the intent could not be determined
    o 20 due to legal intervention

    So, out of all those firearm related deaths, only 214 were unintentional. That is still a high number but nothing like the number of deaths caused each year by traffic accidents, drownings, fires and burns.

    * Of the total firearms-related deaths:
    o 73 were of children under five years old
    o 416 were children 5-14 years old
    o 2,896 were 15-19 years old

    So most of the firearm related deaths were of "children" 15...all the way up to 19. Since accidental deaths have been shown to be smallest percentage, it seems suicide and homicide are the leading cause of firearm related deaths, not accidents.

    Could it be that most of those firearm related deaths are part of criminal activities on the part of the youths?

    Proper training, education and familiarization can reduce accidental deaths. Abstinence only sexual education is decried, it doesn't make sense to employ the same tactics with firearms.

    The NRA Eddy Eagle program is a great resource for teaching youths.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Bob S. You seem to be suggesting that gun violence involving teenagers should not be a cause for concern, because in your mind teenagers are not “kids.” We could not disagree more strongly. Children are treated as dependents typically until the age of 19 and every gun death involving a teenager is a preventable tragedy.

    In any case, young children in America also suffer disproportionately from gun violence. Looking at the most recent 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69 preschoolers were killed by firearms compared to 53 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

    All told, 3,006 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2005—one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 children and teens every week. More than five times as many children and teens suffered non-fatal gun injuries.

    You also suggest that the deaths of children ages 0-19 should not be a cause for concern if they involve gun suicide or homicide. Again, we disagree totally. Nor have you provided any evidence for your claim that most firearm suicides and homicides “are part of criminal activities on the part of youths.”

    Looking at accidental death specifically, one CDC study found that American children are nine times more likely to die in a firearm accident than children in 25 other industrialized countries (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Rates of homicide, suicide, and firearm-related deaths among children in 26 industrialized countries,” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Report, 1997; 46: 101 –105).

    Finally, there is little evidence that exposing children to firearms at a young age reduces the risk of gun death. One study found that children demonstrated more aggressive behavior when toy guns were introduced into play (C.W. Turner and D. Goldsmith, “Effects of toy guns and airplanes on children's antisocial free play behavior,” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 1976; 21: 303-313). Several other studies have found that young children will play with firearms even when carefully instructed not to do so (e.g., M.S. Hardy, “Teaching firearm safety to children: failure of a program,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics,” 2002; 23: 71 –76). - CSGV