Firearms are the second leading cause of death in children in the United States. In the last decade, more than 14,000 American youth were killed by guns, with more than a third of those deaths classified as suicides and approximately 6 percent as accidents, many of which happen to children in their own homes.
These include tragedies such as the death last August of an 8-year-old Oakland boy, who died after handling his father’s shotgun in the family home. Or the death in 2017 of a 5-year-old girl from Belfast who took her father’s loaded handgun out of a backpack. These horrific accidents affect us all — families, first responders, school teachers and community members. The heartbreaking truth is that these deaths, along with many youth suicides, can be prevented by the safe storage of guns.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that if parents decide to keep firearms in their home, all guns should be locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition; and yet, only three in 10 adults in households with children report taking this advice. According to recent research from JAMA Pediatrics, guns used in teen suicides come from the youth’s home approximately nine out of 10 times. Weapons fired accidentally by children come from the home of the victim — or the victim’s relative or friend — in nine out of 10 unintentional firearm deaths. Even a small increase in owners who lock up their firearms would result in a significant drop in gun deaths.
Twenty-seven states, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, have taken action to prevent these types of tragedies. These states have put laws in place to hold gun owners accountable for the safe storage of their firearms. Here in Maine we have no such provisions.
I have introduced LD 379, a bill that proposes a child access prevention law that would require that loaded firearms in homes where children reside (or are likely to visit) be secured in a locked gun safe or with a trigger lock. Modeled after a law enacted in 2001 in New Hampshire, LD 379 would also require gun dealers to post a warning that firearms must be properly secured. It’s a measure designed to increase public safety and change behavior, in much the same way that seatbelt and child car seat laws have done since their enactment years ago.
The bill will not make it harder for adults to purchase guns; nor will it apply to homeowners who do not have children under 16 in their homes. The legislation has only one aim: to keep Maine children safe from loaded guns.
Another bill by Rep. Patrick Corey of Windham, LD 85, seeks to make firearm safety devices exempt from sales tax. This bill would complement LD 379 by helping gun owners purchase a gun safe, lockbox, trigger lock or barrel lock, all which are designed to prevent the tragic consequences of firearms falling into young hands.
These bills were not crafted in a vacuum. We’ve worked closely with law enforcement and state organizations, as well as national organizations that have helped other states implement these protective measures. Both bills are supported by groups such as the Maine Medical Association and Maine Pediatric Association.
Gun ownership is part of the fabric of Maine’s outdoor heritage, and reasonable, responsible, gun owners abound. But research shows too few gun owners appreciate the risks posed by household firearms to children, let alone how that risk can be improved with safe storage practices.
With this legislation, Maine has the opportunity to do something about that risk, making kids safer in the process. Like so many other states, Maine needs to take action.
Victoria Doudera of Camden represents District 94 in the Maine House of Representatives.