A third of accidental shooting deaths could be prevented with two new devices: one that would show whether a gun is loaded, and a childproof safety device, a new study says.
And - based in part on statistics from Salt Lake City and nine other cities nationwide - the U.S. General Accounting Office says such devices might prevent tens of thousands of injuries annually, too.The GAO, a research arm of Congress, studied at the request of Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, how many shooting deaths and injuries occur each year from guns fired accidentally by children or by people who thought the guns were unloaded.
New technology would allow devices that would indicate if guns are loaded, and devices that automatically put guns on safety, which children under age 6 likely could not overcome to fire the guns.
In a review of accidental shooting deaths reported by 110 randomly selected police departments nationwide, the GAO found 8 percent resulted from children under 6 firing guns. Another 23 percent came from people firing guns they thought were unloaded.
The GAO said 1,501 people were killed by accidental shootings nationally in 1988. But no statistics are kept about how many people are accidentally wounded. The GAO could find only 10 large-city police departments - including Salt Lake City - that kept such statistics.
In 1989, twelve people in Salt Lake City were wounded by guns accidentally, but none died. In the 10 cities that kept such statistics, 532 people were similarly wounded and only five died - a 105-1 ratio.
So the GAO said that suggests that the new safety devices could save tens of thousands of injuries from guns a year.
But before that could happen, the GAO suggested that Congress would have to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission authority to regulate the risk of injury from guns - which it does not now have. Otherwise, it could not order guns to use the new safety devices.
The GAO also listed examples of some specific cases where the safety devices would have prevented death that put human faces on the statistics:
- "A 11/2-year-old boy and his 31/2-year-old brother were playing with a .38-caliber handgun that they found under their father's pillow. The weapon discharged, striking the younger child and killing him." It said a childproof safety could have prevented that.
- "A 15-year-old boy removed a .22-caliber handgun from his father's nightstand and pointed it playfully at is 11-year-old sister. He had already removed the clip, for he was familiar with the gun, and thus believed it was unloaded. However, he did not realize that a round remained in the firing chamber; upon discharge it struck his sister in the head."