Last week's awful news from rural Kentucky - that a 5-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a child-sized .22 rifle - begs for a response, even more so because such tragedies are shockingly common.
On Tuesday night in Tampa, the uncle of a 3-year-old boy left a loaded .9mm pistol where the boy found it and accidentally shot himself to death. The same night in Houston, the parents of a 5-year-old boy left a loaded .22 rifle where the boy found it and accidentally shot and wounded his 7-year-old brother.
On average, a child or a teenager is accidentally shot to death every three days in the USA. Every day, nearly nine more kids are accidentally shot but survive. These deaths and injuries are so searing because they're so preventable, so susceptible to the "if only" that will haunt survivors.
If only the parents of that Kentucky 5-year-old hadn't left his gun loaded with a single bullet where he could pick it up. If only the parents of a 4-year-old boy in Toms River, N.J., hadn't left a .22 rifle where he could use it to shoot a 6-year-old playmate in the head last month.
So what can be done to reduce these tragic accidents? Criminal negligence laws might deter some irresponsibility. But what makes the most sense, and what ought to command universal support, is to remind people over and over to handle firearms safely and keep them away from unsupervised children.
Gun groups have fought almost every other sensible way to put reasonable limits on firearms. But the National Rifle Association has led the charge for decades to preach safe handling of guns.
Here's a thought: Surely there's enough common ground among groups on all sides of the issue to mount an aggressive public awareness campaign to remind people to store guns where kids can't get their hands on them.
Pieces of this already exist: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence began a program that urges parents whose children visit other kids' homes to ask whether guns are kept in the house, and whether they're stored safely.
Buried in President Barack Obama's gun proposals in January was a call for a "national responsible gun ownership campaign." In March, the Justice Department gave $1 million to the National Crime Prevention Council to produce public service announcements due out this summer.
This is a good start. And if gun advocacy groups worry that government-funded PSAs will tilt against gun ownership, they're welcome to produce their own spots.
The more voices calling for gun safety, the better. An effective campaign would make reminders as ubiquitous as those warning against the dangers of drugs, smoking and drunken driving. Maybe the constant repetition would make gun owners, especially parents, more careful. That's something all sides in the gun debate should be able to embrace.
- USA TODAY