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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Putting a CAP on accidental shooting injuries and deaths

Gun owners can help protect others by storing their guns responsibly; a useful site for starters is lokitup.org, says Dr. Frederick P. Rivara, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

Special to The Times

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It starts with personal responsibility. Not laws. Not trigger locks. PERSONAL... MORE
Just curious... how many innocent people does the medical profession place below ground... MORE
...studies, conducted here in King County, showing that people in the home are 43 times... MORE

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IN our local community and in the nation, parents are grieving for their children who have been injured or killed recently by guns. We have all read the headlines, seen the news reports and shaken our heads about these tragedies. While we all agree that such events should not have happened, what realistically can be done to prevent them from occurring?

It is pointless to debate the role of guns in America. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to possess handguns in their homes. Many individuals do (44 percent of households in Washington state have a gun), and they keep those handguns loaded and unlocked — despite studies, conducted here in King County, showing that people in the home are 43 times more likely to be killed by that gun than is an intruder.

Nevertheless, we all would agree that children and troubled youth should not have access to guns that their parents and relatives legally possess. What can be done, then, to protect children and the community?

One very effective option is locking devices. Using gun or cable or trigger locks can decrease by 55 percent to 73 percent the risk of death to youth living in homes with guns. Simple measures of locking up guns and ammunition separately and keeping guns in the home unloaded can effectively decrease the misuse of guns and prevent the tragedies we have recently seen.

Another intervention is to hold the gun owner criminally responsible when shootings do occur because a child or teenager has obtained access to guns kept in the home. A number of states, but not Washington, now have these "child-access prevention" (CAP) laws. Scientific studies have found that states with CAP laws have a lower rate of accidental, unintentional shooting deaths among children under 15 years of age and a lower rate of suicides among 14- to 17-year-olds.

A 2009 poll in Washington found that more than half the voters in the state are concerned about the level of gun violence in their community; this was true both in King County and Eastern Washington. Three-fourths of voters in the state support laws that would require gun owners to store all guns in the home with trigger-locking devices or locked in a gun safe if there are children under the age of 18 living in the household.

While laws take time to pass, locked gun storage is an effective and immediate solution to help keep our communities safe. The LOK-IT-UP website, www.lokitup.org, of Public Health — Seattle & King County, provides information about locking-device options and tips for encouraging safe storage among family and friends. Locking devices are widely available where guns or firearm accessories are sold, through most discount stores and from online retailers.

No parent in the community wants his or her child or teen to be a shooting victim. Can our elected public officials do what the majority of the voters want and pass some sensible firearm legislation on which we can all agree? Will those who own guns help to protect others by storing their guns responsibly? The public is waiting for answers.

Dr. Frederick P. Rivara is professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, a founding member of the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, and chief of the general pediatrics division at Seattle Children's Hospital.

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