Alaska, and Juneau in particular, have a big problem — and it’s killing us.
Accidental gun deaths are on the rise, and our state leads the nation in the number of children accidentally killed by firearms.
This problem is worsened because no one wants to talk about it.
According to a recent Associated Press and USA Today investigation, there have been 14 shooting incidents involving youths in the past two and a half years, a rate of 19 shootings per million people. That is nearly twice the rate of North Dakota and Louisiana, numbers two and three on the list, respectively.
Just a month ago, a Thunder Mountain High School senior accidentally shot and killed himself preparing for a hunting trip. In 2009, a Juneau teen negligently shot two friends, killing one of them and permanently wounding the other. On Friday, a 19-year-old Juneau woman was shot in the head when a weapon belonging to someone in the apartment above hers was fired through the floor. The woman is still in critical condition at an Anchorage hospital.
There have been many other accidental shootings that didn’t harm someone but could have. Two months ago, an errant bullet hit a Juneau school bus carrying two children. A few years ago, a local man shot his brother while the two were driving from a shooting range.
Our point: Alaskans aren’t nearly as careful with firearms as they should be, and innocent, unaware people — including children — are paying the price.
We don’t want to see everyone’s weapons taken away. We support Second Amendment rights just as you do. We do want everyone to take the responsibility of gun ownership more seriously. Raising responsible gun owners should be a priority.
Each time we cover a shooting in this paper, there are those who tell us our reporting is offensive to surviving family members who need to grieve, that it’s cold-hearted to talk about what could (or should) have been done differently. We believe there’s a line between placing blame and learning a life-saving lesson. If we do not talk about problems, they will be repeated.
All sixth grade students in Juneau receive hunter education and firearm training. Obviously that isn’t enough. Parents, particularly those who own weapons, must teach and reinforce in their children the gold rule of guns: Always act as if they are loaded.
If you have children in the house, make sure your weapons are secured and out of reach. If your children are going to a friend’s house, it’s OK to ask the parents if they own firearms and how they are stored.
Every right comes with a responsibility. The abuse or negligence of these rights come with consequences, and for the Second Amendment, that abuse could mean death.
Lock up your weapons, Juneau, and be responsible when carrying them. The lives of your children, your children’s friends and your neighbors are depending on it.
— Juneau Empire, Oct. 20