The danger of guns in the home

Many people keep guns in their homes because they believe it makes them safer. But any number of studies, and the experience of one Baltimore County family last week, show that exactly the opposite is the case.

Fifteen-year-old Michael D. Brooks Jr. would have been a sophomore at Lansdowne High School this fall, where he planned to try out for the football team and was looking forward to learning how to drive. But those dreams were cut short last Saturday when he was shot in the head and killed during a sleepover party with two other boys, aged 11 and 12, at a relative's house in Cherry Hill.


Police described the teen's death as a tragic accident, which occurred after one of the boys got hold of a handgun locked inside an upstairs bedroom that the youngsters had been forbidden to enter. The 11-year-old who pulled the trigger will not face charges, police said, though authorities are still investigating whether the weapon was properly stored.

It's unclear how the children gained access to the bedroom where the weapon was kept; it was part of a collection of 22 firearms owned by an older relative who was living in the house temporarily. He told a reporter there was only one gun in the bedroom that was not locked up, but that it was in a case and it was unloaded. He also said he had hidden a key to the room on top of a closet, where he thought it would be out of the children's reach.


Apparently, that didn't prove to be the case — and as a result, another young life was snuffed out through a tragic train of circumstances that proves once again the extraordinary risks that a gun in the house pose for children, even in cases where the responsible adults try to take precautions. Sadly, it is a danger too many adult caregivers still fail to appreciate, even though every parent knows that hiding places can be found out, that keys can be filched, and that curiosity can get the best of any child, no matter how dire the warnings issued by their elders.

It's been estimated that two out of five U.S. households with children between the ages of 3 and 17 keep at least one gun in the home and that almost half those guns are left unlocked or loaded. Every one of them is an accident (or worse) waiting to happen. Firearms are a leading cause of death or serious injury among children, especially teenagers, and they are also one of the leading causes of homicide deaths among young black males. Given those statistics, it makes no sense to keep a gun in a house where children are living.

Most people who buy guns for protection sincerely believe that owning a gun will make them safer. Yet that expectation couldn't be further from the truth. The reality is that having a gun in the house makes the owner far more likely to become a victim of a gun crime — or to have a family member victimized — than to use it successfully in self-defense. Guns are also the leading method of suicide among all age groups.

It's estimated that some 300 children die as a result of firearm-related accidents every year, as well as hundreds of adults. Maryland law prohibits keeping loaded weapons where children can get at them, and it also requires internal trigger locks to secure handguns. But the laws are difficult to enforce because police rarely witness violations. Too often, the offense is only discovered after it is too late, and too often children prove adept at breaching the safeguards.

That's why it's up to parents and caregivers to find out whether there are guns in the house before letting their children visit the home of a neighbor, relative or friend. It's a precaution that experts say most parents, like the grieving family of Michael Brooks, still don't think to take — but in a society as awash in firearms as ours, it's a question that always needs to be asked.