A gun in the home: Invitation to tragedy

Forum Extra

June 23, 1993|By Vincent DeMarco & Jane F. Caplan

WHEN Rodney Peairs shot and killed a Japanese exchange student he mistook for an intruder, he learned a hard lesson which thousands of Americans learn every year: Handguns in the home do not prevent tragedies; they cause tragedies. Mr. Peairs has vowed never to have a gun in his home again.

Sadly, many Marylanders have had to make this same vow.

A few years ago, a Baltimore City shopkeeper reluctantly let his son talk him into buying a handgun for self-protection. Late one night, the shopkeeper heard an intruder. In a panic, he grabbed his gun and shot into the darkness. He shot and killed his own son -- another case of mistaken identity made deadly by the presence of a gun.

Sheila Manning, of New Windsor, convinced herself after her divorce that she needed a handgun for self-defense. She never did use it against an intruder -- her teen-age son used it to attempt suicide in a moment of depression.

Ms. Manning's son is permanently blind now, but at least he is alive. Many other mothers are not as fortunate. Former Channel 2 TV anchorwoman Susan White-Bowden once kept guns in her home. In 1974, her husband John used the family handgun to kill himself. Three years later, a gun in the home devastated her family again. Ms. White-Bowden's only son Jody shot and killed himself. He was only 17. There are no longer any guns in Susan White-Bowden's house.

But even if there are no guns in your home, your children are still at risk. There may be guns in the homes where they play. Sally Welch of Baltimore has never had a gun in her home, but this did not ensure her son's safety. In 1988, Jason went to visit his cousin in Baltimore County. Ms. Welch never again saw him alive. He died at the hands of his 15-year-old cousin, when a family handgun accidentally fired.

Every day in America 14 children are killed with guns.

Every two minutes in America a handgun wounds someone.

This is real life with handguns. An easily available handgun dramatically increases the likelihood of suicides, accidental deaths and homicides in the home.

* According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, a handgun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill the owner or a family member than an intruder.

* According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, domestic disputes are 12 times more likely to end in death if a gun is available.

* According to the Centers for Disease Control, the odds that potentially suicidal teen-agers will kill themselves double when a gun is kept in the home.

In addition, handguns in the home far too often end up in the hands of criminals who use them to kill and threaten. According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, between 200,000 and 250,000 handguns are reported stolen each year.

No one is immune from gun violence -- and we all pay the costs. Experts estimate that our society spends over $14 billion per year as a result of firearm shootings. Treating gun injuries consumes the time and expertise of physicians and drains resources from other critical health needs.

We recognize that fear of crime is what drives law-abiding citizens to the false security of handguns. But the painful truth is that a handgun in the home results in more risk than protection.

Rodney Peairs will never have a gun in his home again. Sheila Manning, Susan White-Bowden and Sally Welch tell anyone who will listen to keep guns out of their homes. For your sake, and for your family's sake, we urge you to take their advice.

Vincent DeMarco is executive director and Jane F. Caplan is deputy executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse.

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