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A gun in the house

A great deal is not yet known about the horrific quadruple murders in Cockeysville that have led police to charge a 15-year-old honor student with murdering his parents and two younger brothers. But this much is clear: The presence of a gun in the house did not protect the Browning family; it put them at a greater risk of violence.

Baltimore County police say Nicholas W. Browning used his father's handgun to kill his family on Friday night. While such familicide is hardly common, numerous studies have shown that having a gun in the home can be exceedingly dangerous. In fact, a firearm is far more likely to be used to shoot a family member or acquaintance than to defend the home against an intruder.

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That's because the presence of a gun in the home raises the risk of not only homicide but suicide and accidental death as well. One Johns Hopkins study found, for instance, that about one-third of all deadly shootings occur during a family argument. The same study found that nearly 75 percent of suicide victims lived in a home where at least one gun was present.

Yet the National Rifle Association would have the public believe that guns make us safer. Period. Certainly, there are people for whom that is true - and there are devices such as gun safes that can reduce the risks associated with gun ownership.

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But the combination of families and deadly weaponry is still too often a devastating mix.

We do not advocate the banning of all guns, but there are measures government can take to reduce their risk. Maryland has a law requiring adults to store guns in a place that is inaccessible to children. Perhaps that rather open-ended and rarely enforced requirement needs to be strengthened.

Such legislation wouldn't necessarily have spared the Brownings, of course. And with roughly 200 million firearms in circulation in this country, it's certainly no cure-all for gun violence. But at minimum, families need to become better educated about the grim reality of bringing a gun into the home. The consequences of that decision are simply too lethal to be ignored.



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