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Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002

Public Perspectives: Children and Guns: Advocacy Groups Speak Out
James Forman

Advocates for Gun Rights (2/2)

There is less unanimity in the pro-gun movement concerning the issue of safe gun storage. In 1999, the NSSF joined President Bill Clinton's Justice Department in launching Project HomeSafe, which distributed gun locks and promotional literature to encourage safe storage. According to the NSSF's Mehalik, "The gun industry has long believed that guns should be kept safely in the home. To us, this means that whenever the gun is not under your control, it should be made safe. There are many ways to do that, but by distributing gun locks, we are offering one low-cost alternative to gun owners."

According to the Independence Institute's Kopel, the pro-gun community is divided on trigger lock initiatives such as Project HomeSafe. "Some support them, some believe they won't do much but are harmless, and others believe that they are a pernicious effort to promote unsafe storage practices," he said. The "unsafe practices" cited by some pro-gun advocates include improper installation of trigger locks, which could lead to accidental shootings, and reduced self-defense efficacy of a locked gun. John Velleco, spokesperson for the Gun Owners of America, argued that "trigger locks will lead to more deaths than they would prevent." They "strike at the very heart" of one's right to self-defense, said Velleco, because they cut down on the gun user's response time in an emergency.3

Others questioned the motives of those who support Project HomeSafe, suggesting that the industry is acting voluntarily to reduce the threat that trigger locks will be made mandatory. "Let's face it, this is a gimmick," said the NRA's Blackman. "Trigger locks work in the sense of public relations, in that they might prevent more serious legislative activity. But they won't really stop somebody who is serious about getting to the gun."

Although pro-gun advocates are divided on the efficacy of trigger locks and other safe-storage mechanisms, they are unanimous in their condemnation of any legislation mandating such devices. "The pro-gun community uniformly views safe-storage mandate laws as a threat," said Kopel—compromising what is, in its view, an unrestricted right to keep and bear arms.

Investment in Youth at Risk of Gun Violence

As noted previously, many pro-gun advocates argue that because most youth gun homicides occur among urban youth, the real problem lies in inner-city communities, not in gun use. Nonetheless, few are working toward solving the problems of the inner city. Typical was the reaction of the Citizens Committee's Waldron, who stated that inadequate after-school supervision of inner-city children was a principal cause of youth gun violence. When asked if he supported any specific interventions such as increased funding for after-school programs, Waldron said, "I'm not signing up for midnight basketball...because that's not going to turn a gangbanger into a model citizen."

One exception was the Independence Institute's Kopel. According to Kopel, neither side offers appropriate solutions to urban youth violence. "The pro-control camp addresses inner-city gun violence by regulating access," he said, whereas "the pro-gun camp argues for harsher penalties for illegal gun possession and greater prohibitions on gang membership." These proposals will not solve the problem, he argued. Instead, society should be debating more comprehensive solutions, including "massive government jobs programs," "urban enterprise zones," "charter schools," or his preferred intervention, "early childhood education programs that are expensive but proven effective."

Kopel disagreed with those who would suggest that his far-reaching proposals might complement, rather than replace, gun control. "On a theoretical level, it doesn't have to be one or the other. But the political reality is that no group can push 27 ways at once. You must prioritize, and when you do, you necessarily leave something off the agenda." Moreover, he argued, "There is a real problem of advocates letting the politicians off the hook. I mean, we have kids killing [legislators] enact meaningless access restrictions or increased possession penalties. If advocates allow them to say they've done something, then we've let them off the hook. There is less pressure for them to do something real."