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Child Watch® Column: "Teddy Bears, Toy Guns, and Real Guns"

Release Date: August 2, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

Imagine your kindergartner is visiting a new friend’s house. During the hour they are running around together they’ll pick up and play with all three of the following things, but only two of them have been tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for safety standards. Which one do you want to be sure has been regulated for safety?

  • The teddy bear sitting on his or her friend’s bed.
  • The plastic gun with the cowboy costume in the toy box.
  • The real handgun kept unlocked and loaded in his father’s nightstand.

If you hoped you could count on safety features on the real gun, you’d be making a tragic mistake. Many Americans heed the CPSC and its recalls of dangerous products to help keep their families safe. As the agency describes its job, “CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction . . . CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals - contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.” But thanks in large part to the work of the gun lobby, guns are specifically not under the CPSC’s jurisdiction and are the only consumer product not regulated for safety. Instead the CPSC is expressly forbidden from regulating the manufacture and sale of guns, although they are one of the most lethal consumer products. A 1976 amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act specifically states that the Commission “shall make no ruling or order that restricts the manufacture or sale of guns, guns ammunition, or components of guns ammunition, including black powder or gun powder for guns.” As a result, the CPSC can regulate teddy bears and toy guns but not real guns.

In the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s new report Protect Children Not Guns 2013, we’ve identified consumer safety standards, childproof safety features, and authorized-user identification technology for all guns as three major gaps in our nation’s current gun safety policy where we can do better to protect child lives. Every gun in our country should be childproof. One-third of all households with children have at least one gun in the home, and it’s estimated that nearly two million children live in homes with an unlocked and loaded gun. But federal law is silent on gun-related consumer safety standards and child access prevention, and for nearly forty years the CPSC’s hands have been tied even as potentially lifesaving technology has been innovated. As a result, many handguns don’t contain easily installed life-saving safety features.  

Many gun tragedies could have been prevented by the use of simple technologies that exist today. Authorized-user identification, or personalized, gun technology encompasses a broad range of manufacturing designs that allow guns to recognize an authorized user and become inoperable when handled by anyone else. One current version is featured in a pistol that communicates with a connected wristwatch via microchips; the watch’s owner enters a personal identification number, and the gun can only be operated when it is located within a certain distance of the watch. The New Jersey Institute of Technology has been working on developing another form of personalized gun technology, “grip recognition,” which would recognize the palm configuration of authorized users and only operate for them. Research and data suggest this kind of technology would be extremely effective in preventing child and teen deaths. A study of unintentional gun deaths in Maryland and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin found that 37 percent of the deaths would have been preventable with gun personalization technology. This technology would also make it harder for children to commit suicide with their parents’ guns and make stolen guns inoperable. Some lawmakers are finally taking steps to make these kinds of safety measures standard.

New Jersey passed a model law in 2002 requiring that all new handguns sold in the state include authorized-user identification technology within three years of becoming available in the state. At the national level, Representative John Tierney (D-MA) has introduced the Personalized Handgun Safety Act of 2013, which would take a major step forward for gun safety by requiring handguns manufactured in the future to be fitted with personalization technology. This proposed legislation would authorize National Institute of Justice grants for further development of personalized handgun technology and require older guns to be retrofitted with personalization technology before being resold with the retrofitting process paid for by the Department of Justice. It also would direct the CPSC to create the safety standard for personalized handguns that all newly manufactured handguns would be required to meet and require that all U.S. manufactured handguns comply with the CPSC standard two years after the date of enactment—finally giving the CPSC the authority to develop safety standards related to guns. Urge your members of Congress to support these common sense safety measures. Congress must subject guns to the same consumer product safety regulations that cover virtually every other consumer product. It’s time for childproof safety features on all guns to save young lives.


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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Submitted by Oma at: January 31, 2014
Speaks to my heart

Submitted by vic4est at: September 9, 2013
I am a grandma, very worried for my grandson. I fear him at 5 could be another statistic. He has been so called raised to not stand up but take a punch. Mom be raising him gang tuff be how he blurts. Worse yet, neg, abuse, sexual, knives, u name it. He will pick a pipe or stick make comments how he will ( slab u ) stab, he cant barley pronounce the word. I have had him now a long 4 months, hes a love until maybe he cant have something he wants or its a trigger from his confusing life. Because he lacked in the emotional development, im teaching him what feelongs are. Yet find the neg training, prior, has rooted in his wanting to die or cause others pain. I honestly had an awakening, our world is so so dark, seems all is for whatever, for him and other to continue a path of welfare, prison , death , hate, ????? I know first hand in more then one area where officers, parents, game players, work against the one person attempting to halt the horrific things children face when the parent dont want but funds and freedom, and call it love of there child, cause they wont have a steady home for months can keep welfare. And not spend a dime on the childs needs. And in the area i lived prior. Mom could, leave me to support the child, drop a bag of diapers at my door, a gal of milk , suger cerial. (In middle of nite, ) and not call or attempt any contact to the child for 6 weeks or more at a time. Yet let me attempt to try to get wic or aide and Cops Cps will take him from his stable enviroment, and without a blink of an eye, hand that child to his mother. Im so sickened by what i have seen, but what i know is i now am dealing with the childs rape issues ontop of all his other needs. I want with alll my heart to give him a chance to make life choices, hopefully betterthen whats hap. I too need support its a full time job, i dont mind, now hes in kindegarten just over 2 weeks and has been in principals office 2 x already. Where what and how, all ideas considered. Help me help him and i will shine giving back. Heres hoping ty

Submitted by Keh'leyr at: August 7, 2013
Thank you for the knowledge.

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 5, 2013
Children can't be trusted to button their shirts or zip up their fly at age 6, let alone remember safety about guns. The don't have the mental capacity. Most adults don't have the mental capacity to remember everything they should on a day-to-day basis, yet the gun nuts seem to think more is better and training eliminate negligence or error. It doesn't matter "who's your daddy", quite frankly. And taking your "clip" with you isn't an answer either. What about when you're home and you fall asleep in your recliner and there's kids around? People just don't get it that kids are unpredictable at all times. Spouses get in fights with each other. There are depressed people who own guns. There are ex-husbands and ex-wives out there and cheating spouses. And there are wackos who think that seeing a black person means "open season". The most sensible thing is better regulation, licensing, training and PUNISHMENT and accountability for those owning these WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Guns, being manufactured for the SOLE PURPOSE of killing, need MORE regulation than any other thing we have or do. Idiots in this country want to regulate women's reproductive parts but NOT GUNS ... their brains are WHERE????

Submitted by Sandi at: August 3, 2013
There are no laws making the parents liable for gun accidents involving children. We need way more outrage.

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 3, 2013
Thank you for being not only the voice for children but for all of us. I find your ideas filled with practicality, common sense and inspiration as well

Submitted by yia yia at: August 2, 2013
i wish for an end to gun violence

Submitted by AllenV at: August 2, 2013
Most semi auto pistols can't be fired unless the clip is in it. Leave the gun at home and take the clip with you. Problem solved.

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 2, 2013
GUNS KILL!

Submitted by Eve at: August 2, 2013
That this is sensible and much needed will certainly not stop t h e gun rights fanatics from obstructing any action.

Submitted by mick at: August 2, 2013
locks are a great idea (speaking as an NRA member) personalized interlocks are really cool, but too expensive to be widely available yet; mandatory? nawh! best thing for kids is to teach them about guns in a safety course. Dad (USMC) taught us kids starting age 6.

Submitted by Latina mother at: August 2, 2013
Thanks Mrs. Wright, I did not about this absurd regulation. Why not start. A Petition addressing this especific issue? It oul be good tart to protect our children from this crazy gun culture

Submitted by Eric at: August 2, 2013
CHILDREN DO NOT NEED OR DESERVE GUNS AS TOYS AT ANY TIME OR AGE!

Submitted by Rick at: August 2, 2013
It seems inevitable that someday all vehicles will have a GPS transmitter to track the vehicle's geographical location. Firearms could also incorporate similar technology administered by a Department of Firearms much like the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Submitted by Danielle at: August 2, 2013
"My First Rifle" by Cricket rifles is marketed to children, and CPSC does not have jurisdiction over these guns. They are real, .22 caliber handguns.