Another Modest Gun Proposal: Firearm Safety Training

Photograph by Ryan Houston/Getty Images

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama pushed his controversial gun-control agenda and, in an emotional gesture, invoked the blameless victims of firearm violence, a number of whom had been invited to the speech by the White House. A bitter fight lies ahead in Congress over Obama’s proposals for an assault weapons ban, restrictions on large ammunition magazines, and an expanded criminal background check for potential gun buyers.

Strangely, there are other gun-control possibilities, which lack Second Amendment radioactivity, yet receive little to no attention. One such idea I’ve highlighted: Fully fund the already-authorized initiative to make sure that crucial records of people who have been deemed mentally ill, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to acquire guns, make their way into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Since 2009, this common-sense program, one that faces no opposition from the National Rifle Association or anyone else I know of, has received only token funding: some $50 million, or 4 percent of the authorized amount.

Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t get the political juices flowing the way a battle over assault weapons does.

Here’s another one: Resume federal funding of firearm safety. During the George W. Bush administration, Congress appropriated more than $90 million that was channeled by the Justice Department to Project ChildSafe. That program has distributed 35 million cable-style gun locks with the assistance, in many cases, of local police departments. Each lock comes with a safety brochure and other educational material meant to help parents keep firearms out of the hands of children (or thieves). Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department ceased funding the program, much to the consternation of local cops.

“Thousands of law enforcement departments across the country—ours included—use Project ChildSafe to effectively raise awareness among gun owners to safely store firearms and ammunition in their homes,” Robert Desrosiers, chief of police in Paxton, Mass., wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder last year. “This helps prevent unauthorized persons, particularly children, from finding an unsecured and possibly loaded firearm in the house. A properly stored firearm can help prevent tragic accidents and also, potentially reduce cases for the criminal justice system.”

Desrosiers, like scores of his counterparts from across the country, has pleaded with the Obama administration to revive federal funding for the gun-lock initiative. “It is a program that can literally save lives,” the Massachusetts police chief added.

Why would a president who favors tougher gun-safety measures cut off this cop-endorsed undertaking? I strongly suspect that the reason is that Project ChildSafe has been—and still is—administered by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun-industry trade group friendly with the NRA. Obviously, the Obama administration has its differences with the gun industry and the lobby representing gun owners. This should not, however, prevent the White House from keeping guns out of kids’ hands.

“While the administration now speaks about the importance of gun safety, unfortunately they have failed to provide a penny of grant funding for Project ChildSafe,” says Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the NSSF. That’s a mistake. Keane is a hard-nosed gun-rights guy with whom I often disagree. On this matter, though, he has the stronger argument.

For better or worse, the guns are out there: 300 million in private hands in the U.S. Neither the president nor his Democratic friends are proposing confiscating any of those firearms (despite what the NRA implies). The Supreme Court has stated clearly that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep guns in the home for self-protection. In light of all that, we should do what we can to encourage gun owners to keep their weapons locked up.

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