Own a Firearm? Get a Goddamn Gun Lock

A 4-year-old is dead in Philadelphia because she picked up a gun in her own house.


Photo by iStock.com

A 4-year-old girl died in North Philadelphia yesterday after a bullet exploded through her head.

Think about the violence of that sentence for a second. A child — a baby, really — met the kind of death you’d normally associate with a soldier on some hellacious battlefield. Whatever possibilities her future held were gone in an instant on a muggy summer afternoon.

Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Lt. John Stanford said today that it appears the child died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was at home with her mother and 3-year-old sister when her life ended in a sudden thunderclap.

Where did the gun come from? Was it legally purchased? Should the mother face criminal charges if the weapon belonged to her? These are all questions that we don’t yet have answers to. They’ll come, sooner than later, from the homicide investigators handling the case.

In the meantime, maybe it’s worth thinking about doing something truly radical: Let’s try to prevent another child in Philly from accidentally shooting herself in the head. Or the hand. Or shooting a sibling. No, this isn’t a call to melt all of the guns in the city, or to station a cop in every household. It’s to remind everyone of a simple way to have a gun and a kid under the same roof, and avoid tragedy: Get a gun lock.

Just because you put your seat belt on when you get into a car or plant a fire alarm in your hallway doesn’t mean that disaster inevitably awaits. They’re just small measures that can maybe save your life.

Scott Charles, Temple University Hospital’s trauma outreach coordinator, has been offering people gun locks on Twitter, no questions asked.

This morning, he delivered a batch to Bilal Qayyum, founder of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, who in turn doled them out to residents who expressed interest. (The Police Department used to have a program that provided gun locks to gun owners, but no longer does.) Charles, it should be noted, is a gun owner. He spends his days either trying to teach Philadelphians how to save gunshot victims through Temple’s Fighting Chance program, or steering kids away from a life of violence through the Cradle to Grave project.

His tweets about gun locks have been met with calm, rational responses, like this one:


“So this is the challenge that we have,” Charles said earlier today. “How do we kind of bridge that divide and convince people who are in denial of the probability of bad things happening that they need to lock their guns?”

Charles said some people who took issue with his offer of free gun locks argued that an intruder won’t wait for a gun owner to unlock his weapon. “I did the math. You know how many hours a bad guy was in my house last year? Zero,” he said. “You know how many hours children were in my house? Several thousand. I’m just playing the laws of probability.”

Again: He owns a gun. Keeps it in a biometric safe. Clip’s in one location, gun in another. The weapon’s there if he needs it, but a child can’t pick it up and become a statistic. It’s not a cure-all, but a step worth taking if it could mean the difference between life and death.

There are others, like the bill that City Council Darrell Clarke introduced that would require firearms to be kept unloaded and in a locked container in houses that have children under the age of 18. The bill passed through Council, and is now awaiting Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature, said Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh.

In the meantime, Charles lives for little moments of success, like the conversation he recently had with a young man who survived a gunshot wound. A frank discussion about the dangers of having a gun in a house with children nearby moved the man to tears — and to ask Charles for a gun lock. “It’s sad that it takes something like this little girl’s death to make people aware of the danger,” he said, “but education is the key.”

Follow @dgambacorta on Twitter.