City should do more to prevent gun deaths

Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aidan Neary's death and Chase Schneider's wounding has traumatized their immediate families, friends and acquaintances, the Juneau Police, the emergency medical technicians, hospital employees and the judicial employees involved in adjudicating this case.

Despite the adverse impact to Juneau, I see little community effort being made to proactively prevent this from happening again. This is the second Alaska community I've lived in which teenagers have been killed while handling guns around friends. Teenagers play with guns daily in almost every community in the country. We've even had a candidate for president who accidentally shot and killed a fellow teenager while playing with a gun (Adlai Stevenson).

The Puhlick family and the Nearys want Kevin Michaud to get the help he needs. Such help costs money. The best way to ensure that Kevin never receives the help he needs is to strip his parents of whatever financial resources they have. But that is their problem. Teenagers who accidentally shoot their friends often develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Being roughed up for the next two years by more streetwise miscreants will not help Kevin, but that is his problem. If Kevin returns to Juneau after being released from juvenile detention, he may be shunned. This will likely increase his risk factors for suicide, but that is not our problem. Other teenagers playing with guns will be more careful for a while, until memories fade, people move away and young children view this incident as ancient history.

In 20 or 30 years, when some other teenager is killed in Juneau while playing with guns at home around friends, it will be someone else's problem.

It is going to take more than a newspaper article to permanently reduce these needless deaths. Children will explore their parent's belongings, no matter how forcefully parents have forbidden such actions. Parents don't comprehend the curiosity and inventiveness of children in willfully disobeying their parents' strictures. Mandatory gun safety training for every child older than 8 or 9 is a good baby step.

Discussing gun safety with all parents also would help, as would providing safe storage for guns outside of the home. It is time we quit viewing this as someone else's responsibility, and quit viewing government as the enemy to gun owner rights. Local government would far rather provide voluntary assistance to prevent these deaths, rather than cleaning up the carnage and prosecuting the anguished shooters.

Renate Riffe


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