When it comes to guns, safety is always at risk

Guns are inherently dangerous. They can be used for protection but they are, by design, instruments that maim and kill.

Here in the United States, we have the largest armed civilian population in the world. With 120.5 firearms per 100 residents, we have more firearms than people, according to the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey. No wonder gun violence is an epidemic that is tearing apart our communities.

When more Americans are insistent on keeping a gun around, naturally the chances of unintentional gun-related fatalities go up. Such incidents are four times more likely to occur in our country than in any other wealthy nation, a 2019 study by Injury Epidemiology found.

Two recent incidents are indicative of the hazards that can arise when a firearm is added to the mix of even the most mundane activities: the recent death of a 14-year-old northwest suburban boy and the gunshot wound Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) suffered this week.

Teenager Eric Casique died after another juvenile accidentally shot him in the chest while they were hanging out in an apartment with two other minors and a 19-year-old man last Friday, Prospect Heights police said.

And Curtis told Sun-Times reporter Tom Schuba he accidentally got shot in the hand Monday while he was cleaning his neighbor’s weapon, which had been “malfunctioning at the gun range.”

Inexperience and familiarity are both risky

Eric and his friends were taking turns “dry firing” a .380-caliber pistol while it was empty before one of the kids inserted a loaded magazine and chambered round into the weapon.

But while the loaded magazine was taken out, police said, the chambered round remained inside when one of the juveniles — still thinking he was “dry firing” — took aim at Eric and pulled the trigger, according to the Daily Herald.

Youthful inexperience and ignorance of how guns operate can be partly blamed for the teenager’s tragic death.

But familiarity with weapons isn’t always a guarantee for safety for adults either, as in the case with Curtis.

As a former Chicago Housing Authority police officer and concealed-carry license instructor, the Southwest Side City Council member knows a thing or two about weapons.

Still, Curtis accidentally shot himself after cleaning and putting the gun back together.

Curtis was lucky. He could have injured himself more seriously or worse. When even a former law enforcement official can make a mistake handling a weapon, the odds of a mishap are even greater when bored children or teens are involved.

Over the summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill requiring the state’s Department of Public Health to create and implement a two-year public awareness campaign on safe gun storage.

Government can’t be expected to police and control how people store their guns in their own home. But education may help sway gun owners to take steps that will prevent more children from getting their hands on a weapon. Even saving one life — child or adult — is worth it.

Such education is sorely needed. More than half of gun owners in the country store at least one weapon without locks or other safety measures, and nearly a quarter of gun-owning Americans keep their firearms in unlocked spaces in their homes, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Also chilling is that 5.4 million children in the U.S. live in homes where there is at least one loaded and unlocked gun in the house, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. Firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S., and while most of those deaths are due to gun violence, accidental gun deaths account for some 5% of those fatalities.

With more education and gun safety training, society can at least cut into that 5%.

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