By Paul Helmke
On Tuesday, when a 6-year-old Houston boy took a gun to school, everyone in the building became a target. The gun fell out of the child’s pocket in the cafeteria at Ross Elementary and accidentally discharged. The boy and two other children were wounded.
We are terribly fortunate that none of the children suffered serious injuries. Ra-Heem Jackson, a 16-year-old honor student at H.D. Woodson High in Northeast D.C., was not so lucky. He was shot multiple times and killed April 7 just 20 feet from his back door, his grieving mother told a Washington Post writer.
Ra-Heem, the recipient of a $50,000 college scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had reportedly tried to buy an illegal gun from a street dealer. He was seeking protection from the random gun violence that too often crackles through his neighborhood like lightning. It appears the gun sellers decided instead to rob and kill him.
It is sadly ironic that Ra-Heem attempted to protect himself from gun violence by buying a gun. What his death and the Houston elementary shooting demonstrate, again, is that more guns in more places make us more vulnerable to gun violence. And anyone can be a target.
Police continue to investigate how a 6-year-old armed himself and a teenager’s promising life was cut short. But here’s something that already is clear. Guns are so easy to get, they can end up in the hands of a 6-year-old, loaded and capable of turning the playful and nurturing confines of an elementary school into a zone of danger and discord.
It is estimated that 2,200 children and teens are injured or killed by a handgun in an unintentional shooting or a suicide attempt each year. Millions of guns are stored in homes unlocked and loaded, and left within a child’s reach. This should not be. Childproofing a gun so that only the gun owner can fire the weapon is another way to dramatically reduce the number of children accidentally wounded by gunfire.
Houston parents pointed out there are no metal gates or checkpoints at the entrances to the Ross school to screen for weapons. But making prison gates out of school doors won’t solve our gun violence problem because it is not localized. It’s a national threat, an epidemic that touches Americans of every age, race, and socio-economic background.
No teen should feel compelled to buy or carry a gun to protect himself on the way to getting an education.
No child just learning to read should be able to pack up a handgun before heading off to school, endangering himself, his schoolmates, and teachers.
As a nation, we can continue to mourn for our children who are victims of unintentional and criminal gun violence. And mourn, we do. But to honor them and the precious nature of life, we must take action. Contact President Obama, your congressional members and your state legislators. Tell them that common sense gun laws, such as background checks on all gun sales, and child access prevention laws, and stricter policies on who can buy guns and where they can carry them can protect our children and us. Let them know if they don’t take these simple steps, the result will be many more unspeakable tragedies; tragedies that all the mourning and sympathy in the world will be powerless to undo.