December 29, 2012

Issac J. Bailey | Another accidental death, another opportunity

A Conway man was charged in the death of his son.

A Conway man was charged in the death of his son.

The boy was killed by a device that has sparked debate for years, with those opposed to regulations citing individual rights, and those wanting stricter laws citing child safety.

I’m not talking about 2-year-old Sincere Smith, whose father, Rondell Smith, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after Sincere picked up his father’s gun and shot himself. The boy died on Christmas night.

I’m talking about 22-month-old Mason Stamey, who died this spring during an all-terrain vehicle accident.

His father was also charged with involuntary manslaughter because his son did not have on safety equipment.

A bill that became law about a year before Stamey’s accident required every person under the age of 16 to wear a helmet and eye protection on ATVs.

It was dubbed “Chandler’s Law” after a 16-year-old Swansea boy who died from injuries related to an ATV wreck in 2003.

Researchers, medical officials and child advocates had been urging the General Assembly for years to pass the law, something then-Gov. Mark Sanford opposed.

But medical officials were tired of treating young people with massive head injuries, the kinds of injuries kids don’t just walk away from as they do from a broken arm.

They noted the results of research reported by The Journal of the S.C. Medical Association, which showed that ATV, tractor and motorcycle accidents are among the top five causes of death for children between 5 and 14. About 450 kids are injured every year in South Carolina on ATVs.

It’s too early to determine what impact the law will have, but it did not prevent Mason Stamey’s death.

And that’s probably the direction many who oppose any talk of better gun restrictions will want the debate to flow when anyone mentions Sincere’s death.

Or they’ll chalk it up to an irresponsible parental choice, even while knowing that most parents – including the most responsible ones – make mistakes that, in the wrong circumstances, could end in similar tragedy.

It’s easier to harshly judge parents than to grapple with the complex factors at play in any child’s death.

Would gun control have prevented Sincere’s death even though ATV regulations did not prevent Mason’s?

Maybe not, but it doesn’t mean the law hasn’t saved lives.

The names of children a law fails to save make headlines.

The names of children saved by a regulation often don’t.

Sincere’s said he bought the gun because he wanted to protect his family after his home had nearly been broken into.

The gun was a safety device in his eyes, just as it is in the minds of many who believe the answer to the high rate of gun violence is more guns in the hands of more trained individuals in more places.

More. More. More.

But I could cite a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found that a gun in the home is associated with a major increase in the risk of homicide and suicide.

“The risk of dying from a firearm-related homicide or suicide was greater in homes with guns, but this risk did not vary by specific firearm-related characteristics,” the researchers found. “Simply having a gun in the home increased the risk of a firearm homicide or firearm suicide in the home.”

Then those who want guns to be left out of the debate about gun violence will cite anecdotes detailing how a gun in the right hands foiled a calamity.

We go back and forth like that because groups such as the National Rifle Association have spent a lot of money short-circuiting our best efforts to even understand the problem. They have made it all but impossible for the Centers for Disease Control to even study the causes of gun violence and solutions, making it easier for faulty information to over-run attempts to seriously examine what’s going on.

Eventually the debate will die down, and nothing significant will have been done to address our top ranking for gun violence. Then we’ll scream with shock and horror when the next toddler shoots himself or the next madman mows down a classroom of elementary students.

And we’ll continue to mostly ignore the gun violence that has become too prevalent among some groups of teenagers who also leave death and heartache in their wake.

But for those who have to live through these tragedies, whether they are the result of an ATV wreck or accidental shooting in Conway or a massacre in Newtown, it will always be more than a debate.

“My son is gone,” Rondell Smith screamed as tears streamed down his cheeks. “My son is gone.”

When a 16-year-old Swansea boy died on an ATV, stakeholders mobilized and did not relent until the state put in place measures to decrease the odds a similar death would take place.

How will they respond to Sincere’s death?

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