This is the full version of an op-ed I wrote, published in the Des Moines Register on December 27, 2018. Click here to read the published version.

Within moments of the announcement that two rural northern Iowa school districts would be offering optional firearms safety classes to their students, the diminutive and perpetually cranky anti-freedom crowd predictably trotted out the tired and dire “blood in the streets” predictions they always do, proving yet again how out-of-touch they are with average Iowans.  This show of theirs also aptly demonstrates that their use of the term “gun safety” is nothing but “gun control” rebranded with language more palatable to the uninformed.

And as usual, the Des Moines Register’s own Rekha Basu was sure not to miss the opportunity too, in her December 20 hit piece on the subject.  Of course, Ms. Basu’s columns are often indistinguishable from satire and one frequently wonders if she’s not just trolling us, but giving her the benefit of the doubt, she couldn’t have chosen a worse source for information on this issue than the so-called Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Brady Bunch, if you don’t know, is one organization in a warped constellation of sham orgs and PACs, funded by limousine liberal billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, which exist to gin up fake research, file wasteful anti-rights lawsuits, collect campaign data for failing progressive candidates, and raise money by promoting radical wedge issues desired mostly by a noisy coastal and urban minority.  If you want to be lied to or get fed things that conform to anti-gun biases, the Brady Bunch is a great place to go.  Quoting their vice president of programs, Ms. Basu writes that we need some “objective reality.”  I agree completely, so here comes a big dose of it.

Yes, too many children are killed with a firearm.  Even one is too many.  When trying to figure out what to do about it and establish public policy though, it is critical for our children’s futures to not only look at the correct data, but to look at the correct data correctly.  Ms. Basu and the Brady Bunch threw out some awful sounding numbers, but the anti-gunner’s favorite pastime is skewing data for partisan purposes, forcing the rest of us to waste time untangling their mess.  I can’t even begin to guess what alchemy the Brady Bunch used to arrive at their “CDC statistics,” so it’s hard to pick them apart.  The problem with those folks is that they manipulate data to suit their positions.

The perfect example is the “30,000 annual deaths by firearm” statistic anti-gunners love so much.  That’s a real number, but how they use it is misleading because it is all firearms related deaths, of any kind.  From those 30,000 deaths, the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report says that 10,982 of them were murders with firearms in 2017—virtually all of which were committed during the commission of another felony.  The remainder are suicides and accidental deaths, but admitting that diminishes their “gun violence epidemic” fear strategy.  Telling you that we’re living in one of the most peaceful times in American history doesn’t raise as much money for their PACs.

See the problem yet?  Criminal homicide is a unique problem, suicide is a unique problem, and accidental shootings are a unique problem, and each of them have unique causes and solutions.  Yet, anti-gunners combine, cherry pick, or broaden the parameters of the data, such as including data up to age 25 for example, to inflate the numbers and make a problem seem worse than it is.  This misdirection confuses the issue and prevents us from crafting effective public policy.

The point of youth gun safety programs, such as the one moving forward in North Butler and Clarksville, is preventing those things we typically call “accidental shootings,” like kids playing with their parent’s gun when nobody is around.  That’s the data we’re after here.  Ignoring the Brady Bunch’s creative math, the CDC’s latest data says that 103 children between the ages of 0 and 17 were accidentally killed by a firearm in 2016.  The number of children between 0 and 17 that were injured in unintentional shootings is so small it doesn’t register on the CDC’s top 20 causes of accidental injury in minors.  103 kids killed unintentionally with a firearm is a tremendous tragedy to be sure, but it’s also a far cry from the numbers the anti-gunners try to scare everyone with. 

For the purposes of intellectual honesty, when I submitted this op-ed to the Register I included screen shots of this data right off the CDC’s WISQARS database app.  I doubt they will be included here due to the formatting limitations of guest editorials, but all the same I encourage you to go to the CDC’s WISQARS database and look at the fatal and accidental injury data for 2016, and filter by all races and sexes, and ages 0-17.  See for yourself.

Here’s the splice of the CDC screenshots I submitted.

For some perspective, the same CDC data says that in 2016, 2,273 children under 18 were killed in motor vehicle accidents, 810 drowned, 256 died from burns, 255 died from poisoning, and 211 died from suffocation.  With respect to injuries, 2,177,477 children under 18 were injured in falls, 1,461,543 were struck by something, 607,044 overexerted themselves, 353,111 cut themselves, 342,052 were stung by insects, and so forth.  Again, firearms related injuries don’t even appear on the top 20.  These numbers also don’t include death by medical condition, which are far more dramatic and heartbreaking.

Let’s be clear: Gun safety classes are intended to reduce accidental injury and death with a firearm, not cure gang crime, stop mass shootings, or prevent suicides.  Though I believe it can be rationally argued that knowledge of safe gun handling can contribute to a long term reduction in those things too.  But using cooked up numbers to push an agenda and prevent our kids from learning real gun safety is disgraceful and immoral, especially when the lives of children are at stake.

Here’s more objective reality: While the precise number is not known, there’s probably around half a billion—yes, billion with a b—privately owned firearms in America, possessed in somewhere between a quarter and one half of American homes.  It is probable that every child will encounter a firearm before they’re old enough to vote, and it is a near certainty that they’ll encounter one in adulthood.  Guns are everywhere, even in deep blue California where, despite their hyper-progressive government’s decades’ long attempt at getting rid of them, it remains the nation’s largest market for privately owned firearms.

Guns loom large in pop culture too, entering the consciousnesses of our children at very early ages.  By the time our kids encounter that first gun, they will have already developed some knowledge of and interest in firearms.  It is for these reasons that gun safety education, like health education, first aid education, sex education, financial education, or driver’s education, are important for our youth.  Who would you prefer educates your kids about firearms safety?  Action movies, video games, and song lyrics?  Or some DNR officer or other certified instructor in a safe, friendly, officially sanctioned school setting?  Remember, making guns taboo only serves to increase a child’s curiosity.

Naturally, the anti-gunners will sell you a line about young people being too psychologically undeveloped to handle the responsibility of firearms, et cetera, et cetera.  Putting aside that the program being used in North Butler and Clarksville is a basic safety course and not a shooting course, here’s where that objective reality stuff comes back again: Kids used to routinely have and use firearms in public all across America up until around the 1980s, and they managed to be perfectly safe and responsible with them.

It used to be normal to see a high school student with a shotgun or a rifle in their car so they could hunt before or after class.  Guns were brought to school for show-and-tell day, and kids brought their broken gun to school so the shop teacher could fix it for them.  In fact, guns weren’t even banned on school grounds in Iowa until 1995.  Yet, no mass tragedies.  Would it surprise you if I told you that in this same time period, many schools had gun safety courses?  And for those kids in schools without gun safety classes, they still had parents who cared more about them than maintaining ideological purity.

If kids didn’t shoot each other or go on spree killings back then, clearly the guns weren’t the problem, nor was young people having them.  Ask yourself: What in our society has changed in the last few decades?  Good faith answers to that question will point us in the right direction if we ever want to move beyond the knee-jerk, band-aid, non-solutions posed by activists and legislators to appear to care or to be “doing something.”

The last bastion of young people having and using firearms responsibly is hunting.  Even today, children under 16 may hunt so long as they have an adult with them.  11-year-olds are even allowed to take the Iowa DNR hunter’s safety course, which the DNR rightly encourages.  The North Butler and Clarksville school districts’ plan is to use this exact sort of program, using dummy ammunition and firearms rendered unable to fire, under close supervision by professional instructors, to teach kids what to do if they encounter a gun.  It will literally be safer in those classrooms than it is in the homes of those misguided adults who cover their eyes and plug their ears, pretending kids aren’t curious and capable, and that hiding guns from them makes the problem go away.

Ms. Basu ridiculously claims having gun safety classes at school “spreads needless fears,” which is ironic because that’s precisely what her regressive op-ed and favorite gun control group do.  She goes on to deride “gun culture” in the same sentence, as is typical of bubble dwelling elitists, as if all of us gun owners are just mouth breathing hicks and not the normal, productive members of society that we really are.  I wonder if Ms. Basu would dare to publicly condescend that way to police officers and veterans, groups which are both overwhelmingly pro-gun and part of the so-called gun culture?

No responsible advocate of freedom and civil rights would ever suggest that every kid should have or use guns, but it’s disingenuous to think kids can’t handle honest-to-God safety education or that it wouldn’t do any of them any good.   We educate our kids to prepare them for so many other things that can likewise have dire consequences when abused, and there is no rational reason why gun safety instruction shouldn’t be an option in Iowa’s schools.

Because as they say, if it saves just one life…

Barry B. Snell

Former Executive Director of the Iowa Firearms Coalition

Note to editor: IFC is responsible for Shall Issue, Stand Your Ground, Permit Privacy, and many other victories in reclaiming Second Amendment rights over the last decade.  Richard Rogers and myself were the lobbyists behind suppressor legalization in 2016, HF517 in 2017, which was the largest gun bill in Iowa history, and initiating the process to amend the Iowa constitution to have a Right to Keep and Bear Arms provision also in 2017, which continues to this day and will be on the ballot in 2020.

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