- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Do you ever feel like a broken record, caught up in the same old scratched groove? But some significant songs bear repetition.

Do not leave children alone. Do not leave children alone.

And, do not leave loaded guns around children. Do not leave loaded guns around children.

How many times must we tell parents not to leave their young children unattended or their older children unsupervised? How many times must we tell parents not to leave their guns unlocked and loaded around children and teens, especially those whom they’ve left home alone? Apparently, not enough.

How else to understand how a 4-year-old Landover boy picked up a loaded .45-caliber handgun and shot through a wooden door at his siblings, killing one and seriously wounding the other while missing a third as she attempted to get her younger charges out of harm’s way? Mind you, not one of these children had reached the ripe old age of 13, which is the magic number that Maryland law requires of anyone deemed responsible enough to supervise a child under 8.

So, Kimberly Brice, 5, was fatally shot and her 7-year-old brother, Gregory Thigpen Jr., was wounded Saturday evening as their 10 year-old sister, Katina Brice, rushed them out of their Tuemmler Avenue home. When police arrived to find the children lying in their neighbor’s yard, the tearful 4-year-old repeatedly asked whether everybody was OK.

Can you even wrap your brain around the very idea of a 4-year-old killer? Neither, I suspect, can his parents. Reportedly, their father is a security guard who was working at the time. The whereabouts of their stay-at-home mom have yet to be disclosed. Police were only releasing the barest of details yesterday. Here again is the same tragic story of children killing children because the adults in their lives were thoughtless or careless.

Can you imagine the agony and heartbreak this Landover family is feeling today for having left these children home alone with a loaded gun in their midst? Here again, we beg the question of who can be held accountable for these needless losses? We can blame the easy access of firearms. We can blame violence-dominated television and computer games. We can blame the lack of strong gun-lock laws. We can blame the gun-rights lobby.

Sadly, we must start with the parents.

Should the children’s parents be charged, because surely a 4-year-old cannot be held accountable? At the very least, they probably should be charged with breaking the law for leaving their children in the care of a 10-year-old. However, this horrendous experience surely has taught such a harsh lesson that no court in the land could strike better. What about the possibility of using this case to test Maryland’s gun-safety-lock law — the only one of its kind in the country?

Studies and tragic stories such as the Landover case demonstrate that the loved ones those guns are supposed to protect are often the loved ones most often harmed by them.

Every day, 10 children are killed by firearms, according to Pax, a nonpartisan organization developed to provide parents with practical solutions to keeping their children safe from guns. Those firearm deaths are, thankfully, down from the 14 accidental shootings a day reported by the National Safe Kids Campaign in 1999.

Still, even one killing is too many. It is parents who must become more diligent.

Pax estimates that 40 percent of homes with children also have guns, and that in half the homes the guns are loaded and unlocked. Two years ago, Pax — Latin for peace — started a public-awareness campaign with the American Academy of Pediatrics called Asking Saves Lives. Parents just need to ask whether there is a gun in a home where their children go to play, just as they would ask about the presence of pets or other carriers of allergens.

Daniel Gross, co-founder of the New York City-based organization, said his group does not take political positions about handgun possession or the necessity for safety-lock laws, because it believes that gun safety should be treated as a public health issue where children are concerned.

Parents must realize that “kids will find guns and kids will play with guns,” he said.

Pax suggests that parents become as knowledgeable as possible about the dangers of keeping guns in their homes and about the proper storage of those guns which, for Mr. Gross, means that guns are kept locked and with the ammunition in a separate location.

No matter how many times or how many ways you say it, it’s a message that bears repeating like a broken record: Don’t leave kids alone, and certainly not where there are guns to be found.

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