Gun ownership is a right in this country. A few recent incidents close to home prompt us to remind gun owners about the responsibility that comes with this right.
It started a couple weeks ago when a 13-year-old student at Willow Oaks Elementary School in Menlo Park was arrested when police found the student off-campus in possession of an unloaded, concealed gun -- which the student admitted taking to school. A 14-year-old was arrested last week on suspicion of bringing a firearm to Milpitas High School; the handgun wasn't loaded but the magazine in his backpack was, police said.
And last week here in San Ramon, an 8-year-old reportedly took his father's loaded gun -- a stolen gun, according to police -- to Twin Creeks Elementary School on Oct. 24. Just a day earlier in nearby Pleasanton, a Village High School student was arrested after police allegedly found them in possession of a loaded handgun at the campus.
We are all fortunate that these incidents didn't have more tragic outcomes, and kudos to the people who were aware enough to report the gun presence to authorities. As it is, three teenagers and one father were arrested, and four communities were once again reminded how fleeting the idea of safety can be.
In California, keeping or leaving a loaded firearm in a place where a child under 18 can find it is a crime. More importantly, this negligence can be deadly.
According to a June report in the American Journal of Pediatrics, firearms are the second leading cause of death for children age 1 to 17 in the U.S., only behind auto accidents. Nineteen children are seriously injured or killed by firearms every day.
Gov. Jerry Brown last month signed a bill authored by local Assemblywoman Catharine Baker focusing on firearms warnings. In addition to a specific warning being given to all people who take a firearms safety certificate exam in California, the new law will require firearms packaging to include a warning that reads:
"Warning. Firearms must be handled responsibly and securely stored to prevent access by children and other unauthorized users... Prevent child access by always keeping guns locked away and unloaded when not in use. If you keep a loaded firearm where a child obtains and improperly uses it, you may be fined or sent to prison."
But it is not just children who find unsecured guns.
In the case that's grabbed national headlines more so because of the defendant's immigration status and prior convictions, Pleasanton native Kate Steinle was shot and killed in 2015 in San Francisco with a gun that had been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger's SUV, a backup duty weapon the federal agent said he stored in a backpack under the front seat.
The gun taken to the San Ramon elementary school by a third-grader is alleged to be stolen, which, if accurate, means someone at some point found that gun unsecured.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley launched an awareness campaign last week focused on gun violence and the safe storage of firearms with the message "Save a Life! Lock Up Your Guns."
With gun ownership on the rise, making all gun owners aware of this very good advice is more important than ever. The number of background checks to purchase a firearm increased by 10% between 2015 and 2016, according to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, there are guns in approximately 40% of U.S. households.
We commend our elected officials for increasing awareness of the necessity of safe storage of firearms and the unfortunate consequences, legal and otherwise, for non-compliance.
However, we aren't lobbying for more laws, restrictions or regulations. We are simply asking gun owners for more responsibility, accountability and common sense.
Stolen guns are being used in crimes. Children are taking loaded guns to school.
Here's a little elementary math: A curious child or thief plus an irresponsible gun owner equals potentially deadly consequences.
Moral of the story for owners of firearms: Practice gun control -- take control of your guns.