January 20, 2013

Another View: Guns in the household present a risk for family members

Gun owners should be responsible and leave their firearms unloaded and secured.


During my career as a forensic psychiatrist, I have encountered several cases where youths committed homicides with weapons owned by their parents.

One parent left his rifle under a bed rather than return it to the locked gun cabinet. His foster son used it to kill his foster mother, with whom he'd argued.

A teen was angry that his sister would not get out of bed to go to school. He killed her with a gun from his mother's unlocked gun cabinet.

A mentally troubled 15-year-old knew where a neighbor kept the key to his locked gun cabinet. He stole a stash of weapons, one of which he used to kill three students at his school and seriously wound five.

An elementary school student brought a pistol from home to school, thinking it would protect him from bullies on the bus. Fortunately, he never fired it.

The youths who killed are serving long prison sentences, and the lives of their families and the relatives of their victims have been destroyed. If only these weapons had not been so accessible.

A gun in the home is much more likely to be used against a family member or in a suicide than it is to be used against an intruder. Gun owners must consider the risks of having a gun in the home and make sure they are kept unloaded and secured.

Another way to promote responsible ownership would be to require gun owners to have liability insurance at the time of purchase and proof of safety training. We do as much with the purchase of automobiles, which can also be lethal weapons.

Diane H. Schetky, M.D., is a forensic psychiatrist who lives in Topsham.


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