Sunday, March 05, 2000

Do guns scare you enough to take a stand?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Another shooting. Another child dead. I'm scared. I look at that baby's face and see my own baby's face instead. And I'm angry.

        I want somebody to blame, somebody besides the 6-year-old boy who shot Kayla Renee Rolland at her elementary school.

        Let's start with the nitwit who left the gun lying around. That's easy and obvious. Prosecutors in Michigan have brought involuntary manslaughter charges against Jamelle James, the 19-year-old man they say brought the gun into the flophouse where the little boy lived.

        If he's convicted, he could get a 15-year sentence.

        Guess what he'd get if he lived around here. Six months and a thousand-dollar fine. At most.

Outgunned
        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen says if the same thing had happened here, “our best chance of conviction would probably be a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” That carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.

        “Even that would be a stretch,” he said.

        He thought maybe they might make a charge of child endangering stick. Maybe. But that's still just a first-degree misdemeanor, again carrying the $1,000 and six-month max.

        “In Michigan, involuntary manslaughter can be committed during a lawful act,” he said. Ohio law is different. “Our statute reads that it has to be during the commission of a felony or a misdemeanor. And I think a jury or a judge might have trouble with the causation element.”

        We don't give you much to go on, do we, Mr. Prosecutor?

        “I wish we had more,” he said.

        Ohio Gov. Bob Taft is pushing for a gun-storage bill requiring gun owners to secure their guns under lock and key and provide trigger locks. Right now, he doesn't appear to have the votes. We put child-safe caps on aspirin tablets. So, why aren't locks part of every gun sold in this country?

        Gun-control opponents say Mr. Taft's proposal would make it impossible to defend themselves in their homes.

        If you want the governor to keep pushing, if you think that guns are more dangerous to children than aspirin, you should probably let him know.

        There are more than 200 million guns in this country, and the Journal of the American Medical Association says more than 1.2 million elementary school-age children have access to guns in their homes.

        The National Rifle Association, which not incidentally has contributed $431,000 to candidates for federal office since 1999, does not think we have too many guns. It thinks we have too many laws. It has made its viewpoint abundantly clear to Congress, which has been futzing around with a juvenile crime bill for eight months.

Show support
        We don't have a federal law that demands safe storage, gun locks, gun registration. We don't have laws with teeth to protect us against people who do not take responsibility for their lethal weapons.

        The NRA spends a lot of money and makes a lot of noise. Does your legislator know how you feel?

        “There's such gridlock with this topic,” says Kelly Anders, who monitors gun legislation at the National Conference of State Legislators. “Picture a teeter-totter with two people who weigh about the same. It doesn't move much.”

        So, have you thrown your weight on the side you support?

        Look at that little face. Friends and neighbors are struggling to make her real to us.

        “She loved Barney the dinosaur,” someone said. Somebody else said she loved baby dolls and playing tag on the playground. She died at 10:29 a.m. Tuesday from a single gunshot wound to the neck.

        Are you scared yet? Well, then, why aren't you screaming?

E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com, call (513) 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. Her column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.