The growing number of gun deaths among children in Wisconsin has led some experts to question whether or not the state is doing enough to encourage gun safety.
A Wisconsin Council on Children and Families report published April 12 showed that child gun-related deaths had increased by 31 percent from 2008-10 and 2012-14. Since 1999, more than 400 children have been killed with guns in Wisconsin, WCCF research analyst Tamarine Cornelius said.
Cornelius said the rate of gun deaths among children in Wisconsin has been decreasing steadily but hiked up in the last couple of years. National rates have been decreasing as well, but have now plateaued — which could have caused rates to increase in Wisconsin.
“We’re at risk of losing these tremendous gains that we have made in reducing the number of kids killed by guns,” Cornelius said. “That said, we still have a relatively large increase compared to the national average, which is a red flag.”
According to the report, black children are more likely to become victims of gun-caused deaths than children of other races. Black children in Wisconsin are also more likely to be victims compared to children nationwide. She said the reasons behind this are not clear, but could be because many people of color face more barriers in the community and often, have higher rates of poverty and stress.
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Locking away guns vs. education
Cornelius said to address gun-related violence and accidental deaths, laws should be changed in a way that would encourage background checks and make it harder for people to get their hands on guns. Forty percent of Midwestern households with children have guns, which is why people need to learn how to safely lock guns away, she said.
In addition to barring access to guns, Cornelius said gun technology should be changed so that it is difficult for children to use them. Like locks on medicine bottle caps, guns too, should have locking mechanisms.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Wisconsin’s 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases should be reinstated. The law requiring a 48-hour waiting period between getting a background check and purchasing a handgun was repealed June 2015, but Taylor said it has prevented spontaneous firearm purchases. The waiting period was implemented so that people who might be upset or angry and decide to buy a gun could calm down and reassess their decision to purchase a firearm.
Taylor said concealed carry also exacerbates gun-related deaths among children and Wisconsinites in general. She said concealed carry is an imminent threat, especially on college campuses.
“Among 23 wealthiest nations, 87 percent of kids are killed with guns in the U.S. alone,” Taylor said. “It’s just so easy to get a gun here and there are no waiting periods.”
But Jeff Nass, Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators executive director, said such statistics about gun violence “lump” all gun-related incidents together and do not address the bigger picture.
Wisconsin’s heritage involves shooting and hunting, Nass said. Because of this, many homes in the state have guns and it is considered normal. He said educating people about how to safely use guns would be better than locking away guns or banning them.
Nass said penalizing people for not locking away guns would be the same as penalizing them for not locking away prescription medications. He said more fatalities occur because of overdosing on such medications than because of guns. He said people are just looking for something to blame rather than addressing the real issue, which is lack of education.
“When people suggest locking up guns, they just look like anti-gun people who want to find a reason to blame the firearm instead of educating people on how to use them and trying to help stop accidents,” Nass said.
Education efforts in Wisconsin
National Rifle Association created the “Eddie Eagle GunSafe” program in 1988, which is a grant-funded program involving a mascot that goes into primary schools and educates children on how to act if they see a firearm. NRA spokesperson Jason Brown said in an email to The Badger Herald that the program’s main goal is to prevent accidents and keep children safe. He said it does not look to encourage children to buy guns or join the NRA.
Nass said Wisconsin should increase programs like Eddie Eagle because they will make children more aware of guns. Brown said the program has reduced gun accidents among children. Brown said it is easy and inexpensive to implement in most schools, which makes gun safety education more accessible to children.
“Coupled with responsible gun storage, handling and education by parents, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program is a proven tool in helping reduce firearm injuries and deaths among children, with a goal of eliminating them entirely,” Brown said.
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Taylor said parents should also be educated to keep their guns locked properly. When children visit other people’s homes, their parents should ask those people if they have a gun at home, she said. Most parents do not ask such questions, but she said this could encourage more people to lock guns for child safety.
Nass said it is also important that parents let children see and touch guns because it would make it less likely for children to use them. He said if children are allowed to safely interact with guns this way they would not “sneak around” and try to see them when no adults are around, which would increase the likelihood of an accident.
“We’re all for gun safety,” Nass said. “We don’t want [people to have a] firearms accident whether it’s with a minor or an adult.”