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The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Protecting the Second Amendment includes addressing gun safety.
Too often we take statements out of context to defend our own assertions. The word “context” is defined as the written or spoken word which precedes and/or follows a word or passage to clarify its meaning. So, when we take something out of context, we alter the meaning.
The Second Amendment clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” taken out of context without the preceding clarifying passage “a well-regulated Militia” misconstrues the intent. The operative word being “well-regulated.” This was supported in the June 26, 2008, Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller for which the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion:
“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer asserted, “Nor, correspondingly, does our analysis suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.”
Firearm accidents, homicides and suicides, as well as illegal gun trafficking, can be reduced with background checks, gun registrations and licensing systems. Researchers at four American universities systematically reviewed studies that “explored the associations between firearm related laws and firearm homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries/deaths” and reported that background checks and safe storage laws were linked to decreased rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm related accidental deaths in children.
Current data reveal 61 percent of all childhood deaths are related to injuries. Firearm injuries are the second leading cause of death among children in the United States between 1 to 19 years of age. Children as young as 2 have the dexterity to operate a handgun.
Some might believe gun safety courses for children are the solution to reducing firearm associated childhood death and injuries. Although gun safety courses have the potential to reduce death and injury from firearms, a study regarding the efficacy of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program revealed that children were able to verbalize gun safety messages but this did not translate into appropriate gun safety skills. Children are naturally explorers and curious and do not apply learned skills to real life situations involving guns.
Access to firearms also increases the risk of death from a suicide attempt because firearms have a 90 percent mortality rate when compared to other methods of suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Maine youth between 10 to 24 years of age and firearms, as the method, account for 47 percent of these suicides. Although adolescent mental illness is certainly a risk factor for suicide, it has been reported that many adolescents without mental illness commit suicide impulsively as a result of relationship or other life crisis. Availability of a firearm in this time of crisis is a crucial factor in determining whether a suicide attempt will be fatal.
National polls reveal that the majority of Americans support gun safety legislation, which includes gun registration and licensing, red flag laws and safe storage. Gun safety legislation does not take away our Second Amendment rights but instead promotes responsible gun ownership.
Mary Tedesco-Schneck is a pediatric nurse practitioner and an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Maine in Orono. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.