- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

I used to think that getting rid of every unlocked firearm in the households where children live was the answer. Now, I am not sure that’s enough.

For what can you say about a felon father who not only teaches his young son how to fire a revolver, but also how to load it? I’ve heard of father-son bonding, but this case takes us far beyond the rite-of-passage hunting or fishing trip.

John Linwood Hall, 56, of Germantown, is charged with leaving a firearm in a location accessible to a minor — a hatbox. And Clyde Colmes Jr., 53, also of Germantown, was charged the next day with knowingly giving a gun to a felon, among other charges. Hall has a criminal record involving assaults.

The gun was the one that went off “accidentally” Tuesday while the boy was playing with it in his backpack. However, prosecutors said yesterday that the boy had threatened the girl before the gun went off. A bullet struck her in the arm, “inches away from her heart,” a prosecutor said.

The girl was released from Children’s Hospital a day later. The boy was charged and placed in juvenile custody. We’re talking about a 7-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Prosecutors argued that Hall had shown his son “how to cock the gun and to load it.” His attorney argued that Hall is “not a danger to society. The boy is a danger.”

Really? Who put the boy in danger? The child did not arrive in harm’s way alone. “The boy had a good knowledge of how the gun was used,” State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said Wednesday. I doubt the boy was self-taught.

Then yesterday, prosecutors said the boy had made previous threats of violence involving guns, including shooting police and killing another person.

This is another of the avoidable gun tragedies that just won’t go away. What makes this week’s headlines about an “accidental” shooting at a suburban day-care center any different than countless others?

First, we can all be thankful that no one was killed at the center — For Kids We Care. No doubt the owners and operators do care; no one can blame them for this accident.

However, do adults really care about all our children?

Have we become so desensitized to “the culture of violence” that the shocking responses I have heard most about the day-care shooting are those of apathy or abdication. “What else can you say about that other than the father ought to be hung?” said a friend nonchalantly. She, it’s sad to report, was not alone.

Clearly, the father has set a pretty poor example. Hall and Mr. Colmes should face the harshest punishment, if the news accounts are correct about their involvement.

Perhaps we can be hopeful that more responsible gun-owning parents will contact Project SafeChild, a program of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, to get locks for their deadly weapons. The organization donated 1,000 safety kits with cable-style gun locks for handguns, rifles and shotguns to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in light of the Germantown shooting.

That shooting departs from the norm in several respects. What, for example, is a felon doing with a firearm?

Equally troubling, why aren’t more people surprised or outraged by first- and second-graders being involved in a shooting incident at a day-care center?

Predictably, we can blame the easy access to firearms. We can blame violence-dominated television and computer games (something Hall gave to his son, prosecutors said). We can blame the lack of strong gun-lock laws. We can blame the gun-rights lobby.

Sadly, we must start with the parents.

Still, we cannot stop there. We must each hold ourselves accountable for failing our children miserably. This is by no means to suggest that all children should be coddled all the time. Often, truly loving someone requires the hard task of telling them when they are wrong and holding them accountable when they do wrong.

Aren’t amoral actions the seeds of an increasingly amoral culture from top to bottom?

If cases of accidental shootings and juvenile violence continue unabated, and we grow numb to their occurrences involving younger perpetrators and victims, it is a glaring indication that we have done nothing, or not enough, to change the situation or the culture beyond bemoaning its challenges.

We cannot afford — for all our futures — to throw up our hands in frustration and helplessness. We must roll up our sleeves and get busy breeding a healthy and honorable society in which children following the lead of adults are helped to reach their highest potential.

If we find ourselves saying “same-old-same-old” thing, especially when a young child is involved in troubling and tragic events, we have to take up the challenge to stop doing the “same-old-same-old” things to protect and provide better home and learning environments for all children.

Otherwise, shame on all our houses.

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