An avoidable tragedy

April 25, 1991

If there were any lingering doubts over the need for more effective controls on handgun ownership, aa brief item in yesterday's Evening Sun ought to dispel them. The story related how officials at Deer Park Middle School in Baltimore County last week confiscated a .22-caliber handgun from a 13-year-old girl, who confessed she brought the weapon to school because she feared a group of classmates with whom she had been arguing.

It is unlikely that the young girl described in the story ever really intended to kill anyone. But in the heat of childish arguments, who knows what might have happened? Happily, school officials got the situation in hand before serious mischief was done. Even so, the makings of a profound tragedy were all there -- and will be the next time as well unless strong measures are taken.

How do children get guns? Most often, from their own homes, or the homes of relatives or friends -- and invariably without the owner's knowledge. Yet leaving a weapon in reach of minors is a form of adult negligence society simply cannot afford.

Bills in the General Assembly this year would have required registration of virtually all handguns and authorized police to bring charges against any adult who negligently allowed a firearm to fall into the hands of a minor. Both are powerful deterrents that might well have prevented the Deer Park incident from ever happening.

These reasonable proposals ultimately were voted down. So we are left to await the next news item that involves a teen-ager and a gun. Would that its ending is not tragic.

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