A group of medical researchers have just published a JAMA article about the effectiveness of child-access prevention (CAP) laws, which are also referred to as safe-storage laws. You can download the article right here. Or you can go to JAMA and read it there. Either way, this is an important article for two reasons:
- CAP laws have become a priority with all gun-control organizations and now exist in 27 states.
- For the first time, we have a major piece of gun-violence research which clarifies the definition of ‘child.’
Most gun studies define children as being 0 to 20 years old. The articles cited in the above link to Giffords use 17 and 20 as the maximum age for their studies. But virtually all 50 states grant hunting licenses to anyone above the age of 15, so to refer to them as ‘children’ is nothing more than an attempt to make the problem of gun injury worse than it is, since most gun injuries, intentional or unintentional, occur after the age of 14. To the credit of the researchers who wrote this JAMA piece, they use the age of 14 as their cut-off point.
Here’s the headline: “more-stringent CAP laws were associated with statistically significant relative reductions in pediatric firearm fatalities. Negligence laws, but not recklessness laws, were associated with reductions in firearm fatalities.” Fine – all well and good. But as usual, the devil’s in the details and I noticed one detail which remains unexplained.
This study looked at changes in gun injuries to children beginning in 1991 and ending in 2016, with the before-and-after comparison being set at 1997 when injury rates began to decline in both CAP and non-CAP states. Over the next eleven years – from 1998 through 2008, the decline was greater in the non-CAP states. Only after 2008 do injury rates in CAP states continue to level off (although they do not continue any downward trend) whereas injury rates in non-CAP states show an increase over the last few years.
The research team carefully explains a number of factors that might influence the results, such as an awareness of CAP laws, misclassification of data, etc. But what they don’t discuss is possible explanations for the decline of child gun injuries in non-CAP jurisdictions. A decline which, until 2008, was almost the same in both CAP and non-CAP states.
If you want to understand the effects of any law designed to require a certain type of behavior, at the very least you need to compare the effects of that law to whether or not the same behavior changed in places where the law didn’t exist. But there is also a bigger issue involved with this research.
The researchers make a distinction between laws which deal with access of children to guns in terms of ‘negligence’ (not locking the gun up or away) to ‘recklessness,’ which basically means that someone took a gun out of safe storage and used it in a stupid or careless way.
I happen to live in the state – Massachusetts – which has the most stringent CAP law of all states with such laws. The law states that unless the gun is under ‘direct control’ by a qualified (licensed) individual, it must either be fitted with a ‘tamper-proof device’ or be locked away at all times. No exceptions of any kind.
Guess what happens? The guy is fooling around with his gun in the living room; his son is playing a board game with a friend on the floor. Phone rings in the kitchen, guy jumps up to answer the phone but leaves the gun behind. Kid picks up the gun, points it at his friend – boom! This act of utter recklessness, which cost an 8-year old his leg (but at least he’s still alive) was committed by a long-time veteran cop who had served his town with distinction for more than 20 years.
I want to commend the authors of this piece for bringing some important clarity to the CAP debate. I also want to remind them and everyone else that we don’t require seat belts for guns.