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The issue isn't 'safety'; it's guns

Personal Weapon ControlInterior Policy

If you have been reading the Sun lately, you might think that September is National School Safety Month. "Reviewing safety plans in schools" was a recent front page headline, and a half-dozen similarly titled articles have filled the paper recently. Has there been an outbreak of running with scissors? Have students been forgetting safety goggles in wood shop? Is there an outbreak of bad crosswalk etiquette?

Sadly, these stories aren't really about school safety, but instead address the troublingly difficult effort to keep guns out of the area's public schools in the aftermath of the two most recent school gun incidents. Rather than forthrightly acknowledging that we are talking about firearms, the conversation is muffled in the misdirectional and anodyne term "safety." But our schools don't have a "safety" problem; they have a firearms availability problem.

Children who come to school intending to harm others can do so by other methods besides guns; maybe school leaders are just being thorough by grouping these discussions under the term safety. But I don't really think so. If the schools call it a firearms problem, it will trigger a flurry of complaints from gun owners, who are likely to angrily reject any mention of gun control. I think the selection of the word safety is intentional, and its dishonesty prevents us from having a meaningful conversation about the real problem. Somehow, it's OK to contemplate marching little kids through a metal detector every day — but heaven forbid we offend the tender sensibilities of the National Rifle Association.

Many things carry inherent risk. People who own swimming pools are generally required to enclose the pool in a fence and pay higher homeowner's insurance rates because an unfenced pool is dangerous to unsupervised children. And you can't own a car without buying liability insurance. We accept these requirements because we understand that it's not fair to impose the costs associated with the risks we choose on other people.

So why can't we apply this approach to the costs and risks associated with gun ownership? Why are gun owners permitted to compel other taxpayers to bear the costs of their choices? I don't own a gun, but my property taxes will be increased if Baltimore County Public Schools installs metal detectors and wastes money trying to train teachers to spot which kid is going to crack up next and shoot someone. Why should I be paying for this? I expect gun owners to take financial and personal responsibility for the consequences of their choices — even as they abide by our gun laws.

People who are committed to easy access to gun ownership should pay all the costs that are a consequence of it. If you own a gun, you should pay every additional penny associated with equipping our schools with metal detectors, more police, or any other specialized equipment or staff necessitated by widespread gun availability. And if a gun you own is taken to school by a child, or used by someone else in the commission of a crime, you, the gun owner, should be liable up to your eyeballs for criminal and civil penalties. It's a travesty that 15-year-old Robert Gladden is charged with multiple felony counts while his stepfather, whose gun was used in the Perry Hall High School shooting, faces far less serious firearm and drug charges.

One more thing: Gun owners should be required to purchase a statutorily defined amount of liability insurance. Let the market determine how much that should cost, and let insurance companies require trigger locks, gun safes, education for owners, and anything else they deem appropriate to make the risk of insuring gun owners acceptably low.

Even if gun owners start to take responsibility for the costs created by widespread gun ownership, all taxpayers deserve a say in gun laws. Since we all have to live with the consequences of how we choose to allow guns to be owned and used, it is only fair, sane, and reasonable that we all have a meaningful voice in this conversation. And the first step toward an intelligent conversation about firearms is to insist that we call this problem what it is and not let some kind of idiotic, fearful politeness name the problem one of "safety."

Lori K. Brown, a web developer and Baltimore County school parent, lives in Catonsville. Her email is lorikay20902@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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