Uncommon sense

Gun safe-storage laws have saved lives around the country, but Ohio remains behind the times


Requiring firearms owners to keep their guns locked or safely stored away from children makes sense to most people. But for Ohio’s legislature and gun lobby, common sense is anything but.

A sensible safe-storage measure sponsored by state Rep. Bill Patmon, a Cleveland Democrat, still sits in committee, where it has languished for more than a year. House Bill 31 would prohibit gun owners from leaving a firearm around the house that isn’t safely stored or locked by a safety device, if they have reason to believe a minor could get hold of it.

More than half the states have similar laws. So should Ohio.

Such laws have reduced accidental shootings of children by as much as 23 percent, the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio says. It studied eight states with child access prevention laws and found that between 1999 and 2006, they had less than half the average death rate for accidental shootings among children.

Saving lives is a good reason for this simple law, despite the nonsense espoused by gun-rights advocates that it would unduly delay a shooter’s access to his or her weapon. It’s clear this law would have saved dozens of lives. By contrast, there is no evidence in Ohio that taking extra seconds to gain access to a gun in the house has caused anyone’s death or injury, especially with touch-access safes and readily available trigger locks.

National studies have shown what we all know: Many young people live in homes where they have unfettered access to guns. In Ohio, the Department of Youth Services in 2012 reported 229 juveniles in its custody with firearms involved in a criminal offense.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Ohio has an annual average of 22 juvenile suicides involving the use of a firearm. The CDC also reports that an annual average of four fatalities and 86 nonfatal shootings occur in Ohio as the result of unintentional or accidental shootings involving juveniles.

In the December, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Adam Lanza shot his mother and used guns she had not secured in their house. To be sure, easy access to guns is not the only reason for these deaths, here and around the country.

Lanza, as troubled as he was, probably would have found other ways to secure weapons. But only a zealot would discount the lethal role of unfettered access to guns in many fatalities.

Representative Patmon’s bill would make criminally negligent storage of a firearm a third-degree misdemeanor. Such negligence would become a first-degree felony if a minor used the firearm to cause injury or death.

If the bill passes, police officers would not randomly enter homes looking for unlocked or improperly stored guns. But the bill would educate Ohioans, and spur them to use far more caution.

In a world in which common sense prevailed, such a law wouldn’t be necessary. But that’s not the world we live in. Many people have died because gun owners have not safely stored their firearms and kept them from children.

“This bill does not impede the Second Amendment,” Mr. Patmon told The Blade’s editorial page. “We have car seats to protect children. Doesn’t it make sense to protect them from a .45 lying on the table?” Sadly, the answer so far from Ohio lawmakers is no.