Second Thoughts That Save Lives

GLENN McNATT

November 13, 1993|By GLENN McNATT

An editorial page column Saturday incorrectly described the waiting period for gun purchases in the Brady bill, which was passed last week by the House of Representatives. The waiting period lasts five days.

The Sun regrets the errors.

When the House of Representatives passed the Brady Bill this week requiring a national seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases, I was reminded of the co-worker who, several years ago, asked my opinion on what sort of weapon she should purchase to keep at home for self-defense.

People expect an editorial writer to have an opinion on everything. I don't, but since she was obviously concerned I did my best to oblige.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

If you really want to feel secure, I said, forget about handguns: Get a short-barreled, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun and a box of No. 4 shot. That will discourage an unwelcome intruder faster than any little ladies' pistol a gun dealer might sell you.

Of course she was horrified by this advice. Can't say I blame her. As anyone who has ever fired one knows, pulling the trigger on a loaded 12-gauge is a like setting off a miniature cannon. It packs a wallop.

She was upset by the very thought of having such a weapon in the house, especially since she had two pre-teen-age children living with her. Mention of the children gave me an opportunity to remind her that kids and handguns are hardly a safer combination. With a shotgun, at least, there's no doubt one is dealing with a lethal weapon. On the other hand, kids see so many shoot-'em-ups on TV these days they're apt to regard a pistol as just another toy.

I wasn't really trying to discourage her, but the fact is that once she thought about it, the idea of having any sort of gun in the house didn't seem like such a good idea. Maybe she imagined that having a ''little gun''-- a la Nancy Reagan -- really would make her feel safer. Confronted with the reality of what firearms actually do -- there's nothing like a 12-gauge shotgun to clear one's mind on such matters -- she realized that any gun in the house posed a far more immediate threat to herself and her children than it was worth.

Giving people a chance to have second thoughts, as my friend did, is what the Brady Bill's seven-day waiting period is all about. The pressures of the moment lead thousands of people every year to impulsively buy handguns.

What they may not realize is that they will have to live with the presence of those guns for years to come. Guns aren't like cars or washing machines. They never wear out. And when you don't need a gun any more, you can't just throw it in the trash. People hold on to their guns for decades after they no longer have any use for them, simply because once you have a gun it's much easier to keep it than get rid of it.

But all that time the gun has to be kept secure, out of reach of children, mentally unstable adults, thieves and the merely curious. That's a big responsibility and not entirely without risks of its own.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Depending on whose statistics you use, one is anywhere from 25 to 50 times more likely to be injured or killed -- or have a family member injured or killed -- by a firearm in the house than one is likely to use it successfully against an intruder. Virtually every year produces a new study bearing out this grim reality.

The studies show that firearms are one of the leading causes of death or serious injury among children. They show that women )) who buy guns for self-defense often end up using them against boyfriends and husbands -- or worse, become victims of their own guns in the hands of boyfriends and husbands.

Firearms are a leading cause of suicide among all age groups, but especially among teen-agers. They are a leading cause of homicide deaths among young black males. We are a nation awash in firearms and firearms-related deaths. Anything that makes people stop and think, ''Do I really want to do this?'' before they plunk down their cash to buy a gun has got to be an improvement.

This year it looks as if the Senate may follow the House's lead and pass the Brady Bill, despite the predictable opposition from the gun lobby. Lawmakers are finally waking up to the fact that the public outcry over crime means they will be held responsible for the nation's deluge of weapons. Crime gives Congress the political cover it needs to do what it should have done a decade ago.

It may be true that the Brady Bill won't affect the way criminals behave. But that's not the point. Far too many firearms-related deaths and injuries in this country result from accidents and suicides. Most probably never would have occurred had a gun not been readily available. The Brady Bill will save lives just by making people think twice before they buy that gun.

Glenn McNatt writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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