WINTHROP — Duty. Responsibility. Safety. When I was serving in the Navy, supporting the Marines in the Saudi Arabian desert during the first Gulf War, these principles were drilled into us. I was equipped with a firearm, trained to keep it clean and secure and taught to discharge it safely and effectively. It was my duty to behave responsibly with my weapon, which included ensuring I was the only user.

During the war, I served as the emergency department medical director for a collecting and clearing company. When a service member armed with a firearm entered a “safe” protected area, he or she would clear their weapon into a barrel of sand under the supervision of a gate guard. I wasn’t in the desert long before a young Marine was brought in with a gunshot wound to the head, the victim of an unintentional but negligent discharge of a firearm into the air rather than into the barrel. Luckily, my Marine patient survived, but the Marines sent the shooter home for court-martial. He should have kept to protocol and fired his weapon safely; the Marines take this seriously.

On my return home to San Diego, one of my duties was to serve as the Navy representative on a child death review panel. One of the cases that we were asked to review was reported extensively in the newspapers. A Navy service member was out on an extended deployment. He left his firearms unlocked for his wife should an intruder enter the home while he was away.

His daughter knew the weapons were unlocked and, while playing with a neighbor in her home, she used one of the firearms and unintentionally shot and killed another child. The Navy and San Diego County determined that the service member was negligent in his duty to keep his weapons secure, and he was court-martialed.

Duty. Responsibility. Safety. We in America have a right to own a weapon, but we have a duty to behave responsibly. In July 2018, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland reported that a child in Maine is killed by a gun approximately once a year. These deaths happen when a young child finds and plays with a loaded firearm. Another 15 deaths occur in Maine every year when an underage teen has access to a loaded firearm and impulsively uses the weapon to take his or her own life.

The owner of a firearm has a duty to keep his or her firearm secure; if a child or a teen in their home accesses a loaded weapon and uses it in a threatening or reckless manner and negligently discharges the loaded weapon, then the owner of the firearm has breached his or her duty. L.D. 379, An Act to Protect Children by Requiring the Safe Storage of Loaded Firearms, makes child safety the law.

Opponents of this bill argue that child safety is already protected, and that the new law threatens gun ownership. This is false. Currently, this situation is not covered by Maine’s child endangerment laws. L.D. 379 is narrow in scope and proposes very specific penalties for negligent handling of firearms leading to the unsupervised firing of a loaded weapon by a child.

We want to prevent the annual unintentional injury or death of a child. The true measure of this law will be if no one is prosecuted, no child is harmed and no one’s right to a firearm is abridged. We at the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics want every child to be safe from negligent firearms storage. We strongly support L.D. 379.


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