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Irresponsible gun owners should be held accountable for preventable accidents

The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that we Americans can own firearms. We venture to suggest those who wrote and ratified the Constitution did not intend it to promote the accidental shootings of children.

In fact, it is likely accidental shootings of childen were far less common in those days. Simply loading a firearm was more complicated and time consuming. Gunpowder had to be poured down the barrel, following by a lead bullet. A ramrod was used to force both into place. Then, a little gunpowder had to be poured into a small pan at the breech. The gun fired only when its hammer slammed down to a piece of flint, generating a spark that set off gunpowder in the pan which, in turn, ignited the main charge.

Now, a child can pull a cartridge out of a box, insert it into a gun’s magazine, cock the weapon, pull the trigger — and perhaps shoot himself or a companion.

Scores of American children die that way every year. Hundreds of others are injured.

Responsible gun owners — and that seems to be the vast majority of them — are very conscientious in preventing accidental shootings by and of children. They keep guns locked up, use trigger locks, hide ammunition and sometimes take weapons apart when they are not in use.

Perhaps Richard J. Bolden, 36, of Chesterfield, Virginia, did many of those things. But he ignored the primary rule: He left a loaded gun where a child could get it.

According to news reports, Bolden told authorities he was cleaning his gun and left it on a dresser while he went to the bathroom. While he was out of the room, his 8-year-old son picked the weapon up and shot himself. Fortunately, the bullet hit only his hand.

Bolden then became the first person charged under a new Virginia law that, in the Associated Press’ words, makes it a crime “to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm around children under 14 in a manner that endangers their life or safety.” Bolden was sentenced to a year in jail, but all of that was suspended. He got off with 24 hours of community service and forfeiture of his gun.

Far more egregious negligence is reported often in accidental shootings of children. Often, the adults responsible are not punished at all.

Virginia is on the right track in protecting children from the stupidity of children. Other states should follow suit, if they do not already have similar statutes.

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