A Modest Proposal: Let’s Keep Guns Out of Kids’ Hands

City officials gathered at Temple University Hospital to talk about reducing youth gun violence.

Sheriff Jewell Williams (left) demonstrates how to use a gun lock while District Attorney Seth Williams (center) and City Council President Darrell Clarke (look on).

Sheriff Jewell Williams (left) demonstrates how to use a gun lock while District Attorney Seth Williams (center) and City Council President Darrell Clarke (look on).

Did you hear the great news?

Philadelphia got through the Democratic National Convention in one piece, proving once again that it can host Big Events every bit as well as some of the nation’s other largest cities. Self-congratulatory pats on the back for everybody!

But …  hang on for a second. As much as we’d love to hammer another nail in the coffin that holds the city’s generations-old inferiority complex, we still have major quality-of-life issues that will linger long after the last multi-colored donkey is removed. Like youth gun violence, for instance.

A 5-year-old boy was accidentally shot in the hand in East Germantown on Sunday. A 10-year-old girl was shot in the shoulder on Thursday. There have plenty been of others, some of whom weren’t lucky enough to survive.

City officials, medical experts and community activists gathered at Temple University Hospital on Monday morning to talk about steps they’re taking to impact this ongoing epidemic.

“To put it into context, last year, in 2015, we had more toddlers shoot Americans and kill Americans than we had Islamist terrorists kill Americans with a gun. Think about that,” said Scott Charles, a Temple trauma outreach coordinator. “This year, in 2016, we have nearly twice as many young people ages 15 and under who have died as the result of unintentional shootings than we’ve had police officers die as the result of intentional shootings.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke talked up the recent bill that council passed — and Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law — that will hopefully compel adults to store their weapons more responsibly.

“If you have a minor child in a household, you’ll be required to have safe storage for the gun, whether you have the gun in a locked box or a locked drawer, or separate the ammunition from the weapon,” Clarke said. “Those are the provisions that we require by law in the city of Philadelphia.”

The penalty for failing to follow the new law isn’t too stiff; violators could face a $300 fine. It’s not exactly earth-shattering, but it is a start. Clarke said he’s not sure if the NRA will challenge the law, as it did in 2008, when City Council tried to pass a handful of gun control laws. “They’ve been quiet. I think they understand the ridiculousness of a challenge like that,” he said. “We’re trying to keep weapons away from children.”

Gun locks, though, received the most attention at Temple. Clarke, Sheriff Jewell Williams, District Attorney Seth Williams, and CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman extolled the life-saving merits of the locks. City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. told a story about a 10-year-old boy named “Cliffy” whose older brother stole a handgun and brought the weapon home. “The gun was broken, and [Cliffy] figured out a way to fix it by adding a nail to a firing pin. It blew his head off.”

Jewell Williams said Sheriff’s Office employees would ride around the city on Monday night and drop off gun locks off at National Night Out gathering spots like Fairhill Square Park at 4th and Lehigh, and Rose Playground, at 75th and Lansdowne Avenue. The office purchased several thousand gun locks, he said, and would give them out — no questions asked — to anyone who calls the office at 215-686-3572.

“This gun lock thing may not be a cure-all, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Mothers in Charge founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight. “We want to be out of business. We don’t want mothers to keep coming to our organization because they have to bury their sons and daughters to violence.”

Clarke and Father’s Day Rally Committee founder Bilal Qayyum spoke of longer-term goals to address some of the root causes of gun violence in Philadelphia, like rampant poverty and unemployment, particularly in minority communities. But for now, they’d settle for fewer stories about children accidentally shooting themselves or their siblings, fewer nightmares like the ones described by Amy Goldberg, the professor and chair of the department of surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

“Nearly three decades ago, I was on call as a young surgical resident when a 4-year-old boy arrived in a trauma boy in cardiac arrest from a gunshot wound. We opened his chest and did our best to reverse the devastation caused by the bullet, but we were unable to save him,” she said. “He was shot by his older brother with a gun that was left unattended and unsecured in their home. So many tragedies occurred that day, and continue to occur in our neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.”

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