Safety first

Residents of the Pacific Northwest should be deeply concerned about a rash of accidental gunshot injuries and deaths involving children and teenagers. The most recent of these hit close to home last week when a 9-year-old in northern Pacific County was struck by a rifle bullet fired by his 10-year-old brother.

This was Washington state's fifth such incident this year. Oregon is by no means immune to these tragedies. This was brought to mind earlier this month when a 14-year-old Oregon City boy who has suffered through numerous surgeries was able to attend his eighth-grade graduation after being accidentally shot in the brain by a friend last year.

All these incidents are uniquely awful. The consequences are themselves so dire and punishing that there seldom is much stomach for thoroughly examining what happened to see if useful corrective actions might be taken. But we do the victims of these tragedies a disservice if we fail to consider ways to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

In last week's case, it is easy to second guess the chain of events that led to an unsupervised boy being allowed to continue recreational shooting while his brother ran to play on a swing in close proximity. Children shooting .22s aren't unusual in the rural West, but the costs can be excruciatingly high when basic safety precautions are ignored or neglected.

There will be those who look at these incidents as an additional argument for tighter controls on guns. But the fact of the matter is that firearms aren't going away. They are an ingrained part of American culture and are useful rural tools for hunting or protecting the henhouse from coyotes and raccoons.

But these horrible cases illustrate the need for adults to be more responsible. Don't leave unattended firearms loaded under any circumstances. Buy and use trigger locks, especially for handguns.

Most importantly, train your children about firearms safety. Whatever else you may think about the National Rifle Association, it has an excellent program for teaching kids about staying out of danger around weapons. Check out the NRA's advice for parents at Local schools would do well to incorporate these lessons in the classroom.

The first, most basic rule to drum into children's minds is: "Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Whether you are shooting or simply handling a gun, never point it at yourself or others." Implicit in this rule is that you must never squeeze a trigger unless you can clearly see exactly what you're aiming at and are absolutely sure all people are safely behind your line of fire.

No one should ever have to go through either being accidentally shot or the agony of being the person in any way responsible. If we're going to have firearms in our homes, we have an absolute obligation to make sure children are kept safe.

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