Thursday, December 29, 2016

Gun safety training can prevent deaths and injuries in 2017

A change in state law will go into effect on Jan. 1 that will have a large impact on firearms possession in Missouri. This was a law I opposed in the 2016 legislative session, but now that it has become a reality, the best we can do is urge people to please be safe.

Senate Bill 656 eliminated the need for anyone age 19 or older to secure a permit to acquire and carry a firearm, among other provisions. Previous concealed carry laws required those seeking to carry a firearm to complete a training course that teaches gun owners how to safely and responsibly carry, shoot and store firearms. That is a very reasonable and appropriate step for possessing a deadly weapon. Our own officers spend months in the Police Academy learning how to properly handle a gun and then get updated firearms training twice annually.

We heavily encourage gun owners to continue to seek professional training on the proper care, handling and storage of a firearm. Although it no longer is mandated, it is essential to the safety of you, your family and anyone who comes into your home. We see far too often what happens when guns are handled and stored improperly.

I’d like you to consider just these 2016 cases in which our most vulnerable residents, children, were killed or hurt in Kansas City because of guns that were not stored or handled safely. Some you may have heard about in the news, and some you haven’t:

· On April 27, an 18-month-old found her father’s unsecured and loaded handgun and shot herself to death while her father slept. The father is charged with then trying to hide the gun.

· On July 30, another 18-month-old showed up at a local hospital with a gunshot wound through his calf. Family stated a man came over to show the baby’s father a gun, and in the course of doing so, it went off and shot the child. The victim survived.

· On October 27, a 5-year-old used a foot stool to climb onto a kitchen counter. He reached into a kitchen cabinet, found a loaded gun and accidentally shot and killed his 3-year-old brother.

· On November 6, a man said he was cleaning his handgun with his 12-month-old next to him when the loaded gun went off. The bullet went through his arm and struck his infant daughter in the back. She survived but sustained critical injuries to her pelvis and spine.

· On November 12, a woman who was 6 months pregnant, her boyfriend, her sister and her 1-year-old niece were “play fighting” in a bedroom of their home when the boyfriend retrieved a gun as part of the play fight. The pregnant woman said the gun usually was unloaded, so she wasn’t concerned. But this time it was loaded, and it went off, striking the pregnant woman in the groin. She suffered from the injury, but the unborn child was not harmed.

· On November 29, two 15-year-old boys got together to play a game of basketball. One wanted to show the other a gun he had somehow acquired. The first boy took out the magazine to show the second the bullets. After he put the magazine back in, he said he intended to pretend to fire the gun. The gun actually did fire, striking the boy’s friend in the face. The boy with the gun immediately started apologizing. The victim survived. 

Proper firearms training and storage likely could have prevented every one of those incidents. Those are just some examples this year from Kansas City. In the first half of 2016, a child died every other day in America because of accidental gunfire, according to research by USA Today and the Associated Press. The 2014 report, Innocents Lost, found that 70 percent of unintentional child gun deaths could have been prevented by proper storage alone. A total of 61 percent of the deaths occurred in the victim’s home, 10 percent at a relative’s home and 10 percent at a friend’s home. That’s why it is important for every single person who owns a firearm to obtain training to know how to use, handle and store it.

The KCPD and many other local organizations also distribute free gunlocks. Call any of our patrol stations, and we will help you find one if you need it.

One other case in which a child was hurt by unintended gunfire this year happened on the Fourth of July. A 16-year-old boy was outside his home lighting fireworks with friends when he thought a firework had struck him in the shoulder. When the burning pain didn’t stop, he realized he’d been shot. An emergency room doctor determined the bullet’s trajectory; it had come from the sky above the boy and headed straight down. The teen had been hit by celebratory gunfire.

Shooting guns off in the air is dangerous and illegal, and we see a lot of it on New Year’s Eve. Endangering the lives and property of your neighbors is no way to celebrate. The reality is that any bullet discharged from a gun, even into the sky, must land somewhere, and when it does, there’s significant risk of injury or death. Celebratory gunfire killed an 11-year-old Kansas City girl on July 4th five years ago, and it hurt a 16-year-old boy this year. The family of the 11-year-old girl went door to door with our officers this year in the days leading up to the 4th of July to visit houses where our Shot Spotter gunshot detection system determined there had been celebratory Independence Day gunfire the previous year. They pleaded with residents in the area not to shoot off guns and make any other family suffer what theirs has had to go through.

A few other gun safety issues as we enter the New Year that I wanted to address in our efforts to make Kansas City as safe as possible: If you own a gun, it is very important that you record its serial number and keep that number in a safe place. And although it is not required by law, (legislation has been pre-filed in the Missouri General Assembly that could mandate it, however) always report if your gun has been stolen. If your gun is stolen, reporting it helps police track down where it’s been and who has been using it (and having the serial number makes this much easier). Stolen guns are used in a host of violent crimes in Kansas City. We recover shell casings at every shooting scene and work tirelessly to match them back to guns. Being able to establish a chain of custody of those crime guns is imperative to solving cases and preventing future gun violence.

The Kansas City Missouri Police Department works hard to prevent shootings in our city, and we need everyone’s help to do it in 2017.

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