At the State of the Union event, we heard “as long as I am President I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” We did not, however, hear any plan to reverse the increasing rate of gun deaths in our country, that in children and teenagers is now 30% higher than it was 5 years ago and in our 10-24 years-olds has become their leading cause of death (Bleyer A. New England Journal of Medicine. April 4, 2019). We have also determined firearm accidents to be the most rapidly increasing cause of death in 1-4 year-olds. Our national opioid crisis was cited, but not the fact that bullets are killing more of our population up to the age of 32 than opioids. For firearm suicides in 10-39 year-olds, we are ranked 2nd of 195 countries in the world with a rate 50% higher than the next highest country.
We applaud the Bend-La Pine school district for developing a program to reduce firearm deaths by educating parents on safe gun storage (The Bulletin, November 17, 2019). We doubt, however, that education alone will be substantively effective. One reason is that a reliable survey found 40% of American gun-owning parents erroneously believing their children are unaware of their guns’ storage location and 22% wrongly believing that their children have never handled household guns. We personally know families in Central Oregon whose children died as a result.
Another reason is that, according to a study published in October, three of four parents with guns at home had at least one unlocked and usually loaded. Most were confident that their children could handle guns safely, perceived storage to interfere with personal protection, and did not comprehend safe storage for suicide prevention.
More telling, a study conducted in our neighboring state, Washington, concluded that, compared to shooting an intruder, a gun in the home was used 40x more often by a household member for suicide and more likely resulted in an accidental death. Twenty-two consecutive studies have demonstrated that a firearm in the home is associated with at least a 3x greater risk of suicide and 2x greater risk of homicide by a household member.
States with more restrictive firearm legislation have lower pediatric, unintentional, suicide, and overall firearm-related fatality rates, and more slowly rising suicide rates. Strong child access protection (CAP) laws have been associated with halving of unintentional and self-inflicted pediatric firearm injuries. CAP laws that only impose liability for reckless endangerment did not, however, reduce pediatric firearm injuries. A study that included Washington and Oregon found that four practices were each associated with firearm-related injury reduction in homes with children and adolescents: keeping guns locked, unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and in a separate location. In other countries, reducing access to firearms has lowered firearm mortality.
Oregon HB4005, the “Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth Act,” is designed to protect children from accidental shootings, reduce teenage firearm suicides, and decrease school shooting incidents. The bill requires gun owners to secure their firearms against unauthorized access when their weapons are not in use, and to report lost/stolen firearms to the police. Unlike CAP laws in states that include criminal penalties, HB4005 relies on fines for violations. In Central and Eastern Oregon, where the rate of suicide has increased in 10-24 year-olds to an all-time recorded high, preventing access to firearms could potentially eliminate half of the suicides.
The bill was drafted with the assistance of gun owners. Two-thirds of 600 Oregon gun owners surveyed support requiring safe gun storage. We urge you to contact your state senator and representative for support of House Bill 4005. Our and your children, families and communities will benefit, not only for prevention of death by bullets but of non-fatal firearm injuries that occur at twice the rate of fatal injuries.