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Child Watch® Column: "It Didn't Have to Happen"

Release Date: May 31, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

“I’m learning that milestones are a very difficult thing to get through in this first year . . . Everything has become ‘after Noah’s death,’” said Jodi Sandoval through a stream of tears. Jodi lost her 14-year-old son Noah McGuire to gun violence in Clintonville, Ohio on July 5, 2012. 

Jodi had made the deliberate decision to keep guns out of her own home in an effort to protect her five children: “I thought that by making a mindful choice not to have guns in my home or to allow guns in my home, to explain to my kids, explain to Noah, my feelings on the violent video games, the gun culture, the violence culture—I thought that if I said the right things and did the right things that somehow that would protect him from what happened to him.” But she couldn’t keep Noah safe when he went on a sleepover at his friend Levi Reed’s grandparents’ home.  Levi was also 14 years old that day when he found and started fooling around with his grandfather’s loaded and unlocked gun.

“Children are curious . . . With guns it just seems common sense is the best measure to take against accidents like Noah’s death. Totally accidental:  his friend pulled the trigger, the magazine wasn’t in the gun, [but] he didn’t know there was a bullet in the chamber.

Now Jodi is wracked with grief and guilt. “I feel horrible that I had no idea that Noah was playing in a house where . . . there were guns.” Noah and his family aren’t the only victims of this tragic accident. Levi Reed was charged with delinquency and reckless homicide after accidentally killing his friend, and his life will be forever altered and burdened by this tragedy.  

Noah’s death, like thousands of other American children’s deaths, didn’t have to happen.  It could very easily have been prevented with common sense gun safety and safe gun storage laws and practices by gun owners. In 2010, 134 children and teenagers died from accidental shootings, and more than 3,000 others suffered accidental gun injuries. Many of the accidental gun victims and shooters are younger than Levi and Noah. They include children like three-year-old Darrien Nez, who died in Arizona on April 29 after shooting himself in the face with a gun he found while playing with his grandmother’s bag. Or two-year-old Caroline Sparks, who was killed at her Kentucky home on April 30 by her five-year-old brother with a rifle he had been given as a birthday gift. Or two-year-old Sincere Tymere Smith, whose pastor and grandmother told MSNBC he was known for being inseparable from his father, but who died after shooting himself in the chest with his father’s gun on Christmas night. When adults choose to own guns adults must take responsibility for keeping their guns locked up and out of the hands of children.

Many Americans are surprised when they learn how simple many guns are for even toddlers to fire and that the same two-year-old who can’t open a childproof medicine bottle might be able to pull a trigger and shoot herself or someone else. In fact, a 1976 amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act that the National Rifle Association advocated for specifically forbids the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) from regulating the sale and manufacture of guns, despite the fact that they are one of the most lethal consumer products killing more than 30,000 people a year and injuring 72,000 others. As a result, the CPSC can regulate teddy bears and toy guns but not real guns—even though common sense design changes and safety mechanisms like trigger locks can save lives. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have acted to fill this void, passing laws requiring locking devices on some or all firearms. But that means that in 39 states, there is no such requirement.

Another common sense answer is child access prevention laws, which require gun owners to store their guns so that children and teens can’t access them unsupervised. Studies have found these laws reduce accidental shootings of children by as much as 23 percent. But only 14 states currently have such laws and support of stronger child access prevention laws is often drowned out by the same loud voices of the gun lobby that fight background checks and other common sense gun safety measures.

A law requiring Levi Reed’s grandfather to store his gun safely might have saved Noah McGuire’s life. As Jodi reflected, “Storing your firearms responsibly with constant regard that there are children nearby—if you have children in your home and you have firearms, then that needs to be on the forefront of your mind at all times.”  Enough is enough. It is time for responsible parents everywhere to make sure everyone in their community stores their guns safely out of the reach of unsupervised children. And it is time for responsible citizens everywhere to stand up to the gun lobby and demand that politicians pass common sense gun safety and safe storage laws. Visit the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website to find out whether your state has laws about gun locking devices and safe gun storage.


Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Vicki at: June 24, 2013
Why haven't the adults in Levi Reed's house charged with endangering the lives of children for leaving a gun accessible? Any amount of marijuana found in a house with children would have brought such a charge.

Submitted by Michel at: June 2, 2013
This article raises important concerns about gun safety and backs up these concerns with stories of real losses. The common sense advise to lock up guns in the home will, I fear, never be adequately followed. People own guns because they are afraid, paranoid, or feel entitled to protect what is theirs. The scenario that fuels this type of thinking and emotional response usually involves a home invasion by an armed individual. They believe that with a gun "at the ready" they will be a hero who is able to remove the threat to their security. The thought of having to search for one's gun, unlock it and load it is terrifying to them and does not fit with the hero scenario. The fact that a family member or visitor is more likely to be a victim of gun violence than is a criminal also does not fit in with the fantasy of self-protection by shooting. Someone in a family with children has to be a child advocate and insist that guns not be stored where children have any possibility of access or refuse to have their child their, period! I have worked with children who have shot someone either by accident or purposely. It is a deeply damaging event for all involved.

Submitted by Esther at: June 1, 2013
Guns should NEVER be kept anywhere near children. As a teacher for 35 years I have attended at least 15 funerals of students whose parents were "responsible" gun owners and NEVER thought that their guns were left loaded, or that their children even knew where their guns were stored.

Submitted by Jen at: June 1, 2013
My heart is broken for all involved in this tragedy. I pray for change in our gun laws. I was blessed to not have this loss happen in my home after I found my estranged husbands loaded rifles stored and unlocked under my own 15 year olds bed without my knowledge. Like Jodi I spoke often to my children's father about no guns in the house while children were there. He disrespected me and my children by lying and bringing lethal weapons into my home. I am glad to say that I discovered the guns during the divorce and my children are safe, but I know this was just by chance. Responsible parents and gun owners must step up and demand safety for our families.

Submitted by Anna at: May 31, 2013
I would love to reach out to this lady, as this tragedy could have been and future tragedies can be avoided. Enough is enough; the business in Newtown, Ct. I believe one of the children there was named Noah. I heard his mom on the news. With caring and thought, Anna Thal Reno

Submitted by Sue at: May 31, 2013
I grew up with a gun in the house. There were several times I touched the firearm. Luckily, I never fired. I was five years old. Police officers have to keep in mind their children's safety when storing their gun.

Submitted by Stuts at: May 31, 2013
I am so grateful for the passion and energy and smarts that you display for common sense gun laws. Your voice is strong, clear and right. Thank you for your efforts and we will be here to support you and positive change.