Kids, guns and Dr. Phil

By Larry Elder

Move over Mr. Anti-Second Amendment Michael Moore, and make way for Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil recently aired a program in which he staged an experiment to demonstrate the danger of guns in the home. Amid a group of playing little girls and boys, a teacher placed two fake guns inside a dollhouse. The teacher warned the kids not to play with the guns, and then left the room. The mindful girls left the guns alone even after the teacher left the room.

The experimenters took the girls out of the room. The boys promptly began playing with the guns. Dr. Phil came in, warned the boys again, and after eliciting a promise not to play with the guns, which he put on a table, he left the room. Again, the boys promptly began playing with the guns. Moral to the story? Guns in the home and children – especially boys – simply don’t mix. Never mind that responsible parents rarely leave guns, let alone loaded ones, inside a girl’s dollhouse or on a table near the children.

Dr. Phil said, “America kills more kids with guns than any other industrialized nation,” later adding, “There are five children a day killed with guns through either accidents or suicides. Five children a day in America are killed with guns.” The five children per day figure adds up to over 1,800 per year.

Hold tape.

Dr. Phil never defined what he meant by “children.” Independence Institute researcher Dave Kopel notes that many of the reported gun deaths involving “children” include those aged 14 through 19, many of them gangbangers. If, by children, Dr. Phil meant 10 and under, approximately 50 children – or less than one child per state per year under 10 – die from handgun violence.

Dr. Phil specifically said gun “accidents and suicides.” Yet the Center for Disease Control, which tracks all causes of death, reports only 86 accidental deaths in kids aged 14-years-and-under in the year 2000, and 110 suicides, for a total of 198. Not exactly 1,800. (Even if Dr. Phil intended to include homicide and undetermined intent, the total of kids aged 14-and-under killed by firearms in 2000, according to the CDC, was 435.)

By contrast, the CDC reported 943 accidental drownings of kids aged 14-and-under, 593 deaths from accidental exposures to smoke and fire, and 2,591 killed in motor vehicle accidents. Surely one child dying through handgun violence – or any kind of violence – is one child too many, but we should not lose perspective.

Dr. Phil went further. In front of the largely female – and often instinctively anti-gun group – audience, Dr. Phil added this headline, “More children die from gunfire than cancer, pneumonia, flu, asthma and HIV-AIDS combined. Do you know what your child would do if he found a gun and you weren’t there?”

Hold tape.

According to the CDC, the annual deaths from cancer in 2000, for children aged 14-years-and-under, was 1,939. Add in the number of 14-and-under who die every year from pneumonia and flu, at 479, plus 169 kids killed by asthma, plus 70 from HIV, and we have a grand total of 2,657, a number higher than Dr. Phil’s figure of 1,800 children allegedly killed each year through handgun accidents and suicide.

As usual with programs stacked against guns, Dr. Phil failed to even address the number of children saved by handguns per year. In other words, how many kids remain with us because Mommy or Daddy – or in some cases a child – used a gun to defend the household. According to the Department of Justice, Americans use guns for defensive purposes 1.5 million times a year. And, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – a division of the Justice Department – the government found that children taught appropriate use of guns by their parents turn out to be far less likely to use those guns for criminal purposes than those without such instruction.

Recently, in South Bend, Ind., a thug broke into a home occupied by an 80-year-old grandmother and her 10-year-old grandchild. The intruder held a jagged box cutter to the grandmother’s neck, at which time the 10-year-old bolted upstairs where he retrieved his father’s gun, the responsible use of which his dad taught him. The 10-year-old returned, pointed the gun at the intruder, and shot and killed him. “The young man reasonably believed his grandmother and himself to be in danger of dying,” the South Bend police said. “It was clear to us this was a justifiable homicide. He did what he had to do.”

Some suggestions: Don’t go to your gun store for psychological counseling; and don’t go to a mental health therapist for advice on guns.