- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - There was a time in Wichita when an ordinance required adults to properly secure guns around children.

Some people, including the mayor, wish it was still that way. Others say that a law is not the solution to protecting children.

Now, Wichita has a fresh tragedy involving a gun and a small child.

For 12 years, Wichita had an ordinance regulating gun storage around children. The Wichita law required that guns be properly secured if someone under 18 could have access and required that adults keep guns unloaded, locked away or secured with trigger locks. The City Council adopted the ordinance - punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail - in 1993 after a rash of accidental shootings involving children. In a little over two years, from January 1991 through April 1993, police recorded 69 firearms accidents in Wichita that resulted in death or injury. In 26 of the cases, the victim was under 18.

In 2005, the Wichita gun storage ordinance was repealed because a state law nullified it.

After the ordinance was repealed, from 2007 through 2013, Wichita police recorded on average eight accidental shootings at homes each year, according to numbers from police. In 2013, 10 shootings were reported. No other details of those accidental shootings, including whether they involved children, were available.

On the state level, there is no law specifically involving safe gun storage, said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett.

Last month, the governor signed into law a bill that will prohibit local governments from enforcing local gun ordinances and will make gun laws uniform across the state.

In Wichita, tragedy struck April 31. Police say a 4-year-old boy reached into a nightstand drawer at a home he was visiting and pulled the trigger on a handgun. A bullet struck his 19-month-old brother in the chest, and the boy died at a hospital.

The death is devastating, but having a law dictating safe gun storage is not the solution, said Phil Journey, a longtime gun rights advocate, former legislator and current Sedgwick County District Court judge.

Safe-storage laws “don’t prevent the tragedy. They punish people afterward,” Journey said.

As a legislator in 2005, Journey pushed for passage of a state law that eliminated the Wichita ordinance on gun storage. He argued that the law impinged on the right to self-defense.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Katherine Melhorn, who is a pediatrician, child abuse expert and member of the State Child Death Review Board, said they wish the safe-storage ordinance was still in effect.

If there can’t be a law, then education is crucial, Melhorn said. The education needs to focus on the specifics of properly securing guns and keeping in mind that children will go to lengths to find a gun, she said. The Child Death Review Board recommends that “all firearms be stored with gun locks in a secure and locked case with ammunition stored separately.”

“Whatever side of the gun rights issue you’re on, that should not get in the way of making sure that children don’t have access to loaded weapons,” Melhorn said.

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