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With Florida laws, more guns means more kids shooting themselves

Second Amendment


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In case you missed the latest firearms news in Florida, we’ve had two shootings recently that involved 3-year-old gunmen.

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Yes, preschoolers with handguns.

Take note, NRA, you might need to revise your mantra to “The best defense against a bad toddler with a gun is a good toddler with a gun.”

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In Tampa, a 3-year-old child picked up a loaded gun in the home and shot a 5-month-old infant in the hip. The young child is expected to survive.

A few days earlier In Gainesville, a 3-year-old boy picked up a gun from an unlocked case in his home and accidentally shot and killed himself. He was the second Florida 3-year-old boy who shot and killed himself this year. The earlier case happened on April 3, in Jacksonville.

These are horrible and preventable tragedies, and they happen far too often in Florida: The Accidental Discharge State.

Children shooting children in Florida

In January of this year, a 4-year-old child shot and killed his 2-year-old brother in Callaway in Bay County. Also that month, a 4-year-old boy in Ocala found a loaded handgun in a zipped sweater in his home and shot and wounded himself with it. Oh, and that same month, a 5-year-old boy in Pensacola also shot and wounded himself.

That shouldn’t be confused with the 8-year-old Pensacola boy who, in June, found his father’s loaded gun and accidentally shot and killed a 1-year-old girl, and wounded her 2-year-old sister.

You’d think that children accidentally shooting themselves and other children would be treated as a crisis. But it isn’t tracked by Florida’s law enforcement or health officials. To find the data, you have to go to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group created in 2013 when the Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America combined. 

The two 3-year-old shooters in Florida are at least the 14th time that children in Florida have shot themselves or others with firearms so far this year, Everytown reported. Last year, there were 25 shootings by Florida children that caused 10 deaths and 17 injuries.

As for ages, there were at least two 3-year-old Florida shooters last year. But the youngest shooters were two 2-year-old boys in separate incidents. In Altamonte Springs, the 2-year-old boy shot and killed his mother while she was on a Zoom call. And in Port St. Lucie, a toddler shot and killed himself with a gun left on a table at his home.

If this were about anything but guns, you’d see a flurry of action and pro-active steps to remedy it.

For example, when the Brightline higher-speed train started operating between Miami and West Palm Beach, a surprising number of train collisions with pedestrians and motorists caused a reappraisal of safety features.

These included raising pavement markings at 328 railway crossings, making additional landscaping and signage changes, and experimenting with drones. Even the placement of human “safety ambassadors” at some intersections was tried. 

Or consider what happens to drivers in Florida who get a drunk driving conviction with an especially high blood-alcohol level, or are driving with a minor in the car, or have more than one DUI conviction.

If they want to drive again in the state, they must install an ignition interlock device to their car for a period of time. It’s a device that tests the driver’s breath and prevents the car’s ignition from working if there’s any trace of alcohol on the driver’s breath.

That’s a reasonable response to drunk driving, which kills nearly 1,000 Floridians every year. 

“Second Amendment” not valid excuse

So, where’s the reasonable safety response to the Florida children who get their hands on loaded guns and use them to shoot themselves and others?

Oh, and don’t say, “Second Amendment!” There’s nothing in the Second Amendment to the Constitution that calls for the unfettered right to firearms or a prohibition against government-mandated safety measures. 

If you don’t believe me, consider the words of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He wrote the majority opinion in the 2008 Heller case that first established an individual right to firearms for home protection.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” Scalia wrote. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 

Florida has more than 2.5 million concealed weapons permit holders. State law allows loaded guns to be stored in homes where children live if the firearm is kept in a location “which a reasonable person would believe to be secure” or if the gun has a trigger lock. 

But it creates an exception for loaded guns in the home of a minor, saying that they are allowed to be readily available in the home “when the person is carrying the firearm on his or her body or within such close proximity thereto that he or she can retrieve and use it as easily and quickly as if he or she carried it on his or her body.”

That’s a pretty big exception. It might include leaving the loaded gun on the nightstand by your bed at night with a child in the next room.

Florida’s children will continue to be shot and killed by the negligence of their parents in the absence of better safety measures. 

Gun safety meets cellphone safety

And they are out there. Guns, like cellphones, can be childproofed.

The technology of “smart guns” uses the gun owner’s fingerprint, a PIN, or a radio frequency that links the gun to a chip in the gun owner’s ring or bracelet that enable the trigger. 

It would render stolen guns useless and would eliminate the danger to children who get their hands on carelessly kept firearms. Other states have reacted favorably to this new technology, which is becoming available.

New Jersey passed a gun safety law in 2019 that set up a commission to approve smart guns and require firearms retailers to sell them. Maryland has required a legislative review of “personalized handgun” technology. California and Massachusetts have taken similar steps.

The same kind of technology that protects your cellphone from getting in the hands of the wrong people can apply to your firearm. 

Florida, which issues more firearms permits than any other state, ought to be leading the pack in gun safety. 

But instead, we’re “protecting” children from American history and drag-queen storytellers, while Gov. Ron DeSantis promotes legislation to allow even more gun mayhem through the permit-less carrying of guns openly in public.

“What you don’t want is to have a government bureaucrat stymie your ability to exercise your constitutional rights, and I think that’s been the concern that people have had,” DeSantis said.

Pandering to nonsense. Again. To reiterate Scalia: “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” 

Meanwhile, the next 3-year-old gunman is poised to strike again somewhere in Florida.

Frank Cerabino is a columnist at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at fcerabino@gannett.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.



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