U.S. Senate

The GOP’s ‘Handguns in Yellowstone’ Amendment Claims a 3-Year Old Victim

When Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) attached an amendment permitting tourists to carry loaded handguns in the nation’s national parks onto the 2009 Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights, it was an accident waiting to happen. On the morning of Saturday September 7th, in Yellowstone National Park’s Grant Village Campground that accident happened with tragic results for a young girl who fatally shot herself with a loaded handgun. The girl was just three years old.

The national parks had been virtually gun free zones for decades until Coburn, with heavy NRA backing, attached an amendment to the 2009 Credit Card Holders’ bill to have the prohibition on loaded firearms lifted. His poisoned pill amendment was approved by Congress and signed by President Obama into law. Had Obama not signed the bill, credit card reform would have been scuttled and the big banks would have emerged the victor. However, by signing the bill, the NRA benefited from the provision that permitted loaded guns to be carried into the national parks.

Although Coburn touts the bill as having reducing violent crime, once falsely boasting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that “rapes, murders, robberies and assaults are down about 85 percent since we did that“, the reality is that allowing loaded guns in the parks has not made them safer and it has increased the risk of fatal accidents like the one that claimed the little girl’s life on Saturday. While violent crimes have never been a serious problem inside the national parks, the first year loaded handguns were allowed (beginning in February of 2010) the number of violent crimes rose from 307 to 369 violent crimes or a twenty percent increase. In 2011, the number declined back down to 323 violent crimes, a total that still exceeded the 2009 total.

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Perhaps more importantly, the number of homicides rose from just three in 2009 to fifteen in 2010, a five fold increase. Clearly the claim that loaded guns in the parks has made them safer does not stand up to the evidence which suggests otherwise. Rapes and aggravated assaults also rose from 2009 and 2010 after loaded guns were permitted. Of the four types of violent crime, only robberies decreased and they declined only slightly.

Adding guns to the national parks has not reduced violent crime but it has put more young children at risk from irresponsible gun owners that do not secure their weapons in the presence of children. Tom Coburn and the NRA continue to promote loaded guns as essential for public safety, but as is so often the case, the latest incident in Yellowstone reveals that they are more a threat to kill children than they are a deterrence to killing children. Admittedly, Coburn’s culpability for the death of the girl is far less than that of the individuals who left a loaded gun unattended in her presence. The case is being investigated and at this point we do not know exactly what took place, but due to the Coburn amendment, packing heat in the national parks in now legal and the consequences of that law may have proved lethal for this little girl.

Until gun advocates like Tom Coburn value our children’s lives as much as they value the right of gun owners to carry loaded guns anywhere they please, these type of tragedies will be repeated over and over again. The three year-old Idaho girl can now apparently be added to the long list of children killed this year by self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the United States. In our gun obsessed culture where firearms are revered as forms of self-protection while their owners carelessly handle them, adding guns to the national parks was a recipe for disaster. On Saturday, September 7th, 2013 that disaster struck an Idaho family who now mourns the death of a three year old girl, who became yet another child victim of gun violence in America. While this perhaps could have happened with or without Tom Coburn’s amendment, the fact that it occurred in a national park where guns were once prohibited merely underscores our nation’s warped priorities when it comes to firearms and children. Tom Coburn’s twisting of park statistics to justify his ideological position cannot cover the blood stains on his hands. Had guns not been allowed in Yellowstone, a three year-old girl might not have been able to shoot herself in the park this weekend.




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