The recent massacre in Santa Fe, Texas, has already fallen out of the national news cycle. Unlike the Parkland murderer, the perpetrator didn’t use one of those scary “assault weapons” you’ve heard so much about. He killed 10 people with his father’s shotgun and a .38 revolver, and the anti-gun lobby has struggled to spin the story when even Uncle Joe is encouraging Americans to buy a shotgun for home defense.
But anti-gunners are a resourceful lot, and they’ve latched onto the only gun control measure available after this most recent tragedy: safe storage laws.
Investigators haven’t said how the murderer, whose name you won’t find in this article, acquired his father’s firearms. The suspect is also too old for the state to prosecute the father for negligent storage, which in Texas only applies if the child is under 17 years old.
That, of course, hasn’t dissuaded mainstream media outlets from lamenting the tragic lack of state and federal laws that allow prosecutors to punish parents for crimes their children commit with their firearms. Twenty-seven states already have some kind of child access prevention law, but some believe that number should be higher, and the penalties should be more severe.
CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem chided Second Amendment advocates for not being at the forefront in “promoting safer gun ownership standards, as well as liability for parents who negligently, or even purposefully, allow their kids access to guns that the child couldn’t otherwise buy.”
“Unfortunately,” she continues, “the NRA has traditionally taken a hard line against legal liability for those whose guns are taken, no matter the negligence that allowed it, and used in a crime.”
The Huffington Post followed suit, quoting in its coverage of the shooting a gun control advocate from Austin named Ed Scruggs.
“Right now, the state really does very little, if anything, to encourage the safe and secure storage of firearms at all,” Scruggs insisted. “It’s not really a gun rights issue, it’s just a gun issue and we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss it.”
“Maybe people grew up in a house with hunting guns and other guns available, but they need to realize that we’re living in a different time,” he continued. “We can never be too safe.”
SEE ALSO: GunsAmerica Gun Safe Buying Guide
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo went a step further, telling CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “I believe that anyone that owns a firearm, that doesn’t secure it properly, ends up in the wrong hands, and used to kill innocent people, that that should carry some significant consequences. We need to think about that on the national level across this country.”
The hoopla is ironic, first of all, because Texas already has a law that allows the state to prosecute someone who fails to secure a loaded firearm in a place where a child under 17 can access it. Multiple Texas Republicans, furthermore, have come forward to reiterate the need for gun owners to properly secure their firearms.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told a crowd in front of Santa Fe High School, “If you’re a parent and you own guns, lock your guns safely away. Your children should not be able, or anyone else, to get your legally owned guns. …This is one big step we can take.”
Later that afternoon, U.S. Senator John Cornyn said that it’s “only prudent” that parents keep their firearms under lock and key, and Gov. Greg Abbott has instituted a series of roundtable discussions to hash out a variety of school safety proposals, one of which has been safe gun storage.
More broadly speaking, and in contradiction to Kayyem’s assertion, the firearms community has for decades been at the forefront of promoting safe gun ownership standards. The National Rifle Association encourages its members to “store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons” and offers a variety of safety and education resources.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation instituted Project ChildSafe in 1999, which has since partnered with thousands of law enforcement agencies to distribute more than 37 million firearm safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and five U.S. territories. Safety kits include a cable-style gun lock and safety instructions that allow gun owners to property secure their firearms even if they can’t afford a large gun safe.
Gun manufacturers have joined the movement as well, and since 1998 they’ve included with firearm purchases more than 70 million free gun locks worth over $140 million.
Firearms manufacturers, owners, and advocacy groups have, in short, put their money where their mouth is. Unlike the anti-gun lobby, the firearms community has enabled gun owners to secure their firearms and prevent access by unauthorized persons, including children. NRA and NSSF members are happy to donate to organizations that encourage parents to practice safe gun storage, and there has been a 24 percent decline in fatal firearm accidents between 2006 and 2015.
If gun owners promote safe gun ownership and work to make it a reality, a gun control advocate might ask, why don’t they support laws that mandate safe storage?
The reasons are numerous, but many Americans would no doubt cite one of the primary motivations for owning a gun in the first place: self-reliance. Gun owners understand that a firearm enables independence from the state. With a firearm, a man or a woman can defend themselves and their families without relying on law enforcement, ensuring that they can manage any life-threatening situation the might arise.
Gun storage laws could jeopardize their ability to handle these situations effectively. As Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out, “If you hear someone breaking your glass or kicking in the door at night, you don’t have time to run and get the keys and unlock a vault device.” Quick access safes can provide a nice compromise, but not all gun owners have the means to purchase additional storage solutions. Sometimes, a loaded shotgun on the top shelf is the only thing standing between a law-abiding citizen and a criminal attacker.
Americans since the founding, furthermore, have owned firearms to defend themselves when the government can’t, and this self-governing attitude continues to inform how many consider the role of the state. If something can be accomplished in the private sector, Americans are hesitant to give elected officials yet another avenue into their homes, lives, and gun safes. They’d rather fix societal ills by relying on themselves and their neighbors than bureaucrats and politicians.
Punishing parents for the actions of their teenage children directly contradicts this mindset because it empowers the state rather than the individual. It’s one thing to punish someone for leaving a loaded firearm in a room with toddlers. It’s quite another to allow, as Massachusetts does, a person to be fined and jailed if a police officer finds an unloaded shotgun hidden in a bedroom closet. Given the government’s tendency to expand its power, and gun control proponents near-insatiable desire to restrict gun rights, firearm owners can’t be blamed for suspecting that the first scenario might lead to the second.
If gun control proponents want to ensure safe gun storage practices are followed, they might find more success partnering with organizations that have a proven track record of promoting secure gun storage. If, on the other hand, they and their media outlets continue to push state control, malign the NSSF and the NRA, and attack gun owners, they’ll fail to enact the change they want in pro-gun states like Texas and Florida.
Both sides of this debate want to keep kids safe, properly secure firearms, and avoid another Santa Fe massacre, but only the pro-gun community has donated millions of dollars to the effort. If they really care about protecting kids, the anti-gun lobby should do the same.