CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year in rural Kentucky, the Sparks family proudly gave a small children's .22 caliber rifle called a "Crickett" to 4-year-old son Kristian, so he could begin acquiring manly gun habits relished by most males of the region. Early this month, the preschool boy accidentally killed his 2-year-sister, sending grief through his family and their town, Burkesville.
The Crickett rifle and another called a "Chipmunk" are made for children by Keystone Sporting Arms in Pennsylvania. These weapons suit a gun-loving spirit felt through mountainous West Virginia and most rural parts of America.
In the nation's never-ending gun debate, here's a key question: What's the best way to let hunter families keep their beloved rifles and shotguns -- yet also reduce America's terrible toll of gun murders and accidental shootings, the worst in any democracy?
It's a simple fact that the United States is the ugliest gun slaughterhouse among advanced nations. Gun deaths and maimings in this country range as high as 100 times worse than in some peaceful societies. How can this tragedy be reduced?
Columnist Cynthia Tucker says the national gun debate -- "which is hopelessly mired in partisan madness" -- might find common ground if people focused on child safety. She wrote:
"An average of eight Americans younger than 20 are killed by firearms every day. While urban children are more likely to be homicide victims ... rural children are more likely to be suicides or victims of accidental shootings."
She said America should launch a crusade to protect children from gun peril, but added:
"Of course, the most ferocious and fanatical factions of the gun lobby -- notably the National Rifle Association -- will have no use for even the mildest reforms aimed at stemming the carnage. For years now, the NRA has insisted that children ought to be armed for sport shooting right alongside their parents."
Child safety is just one aspect of the gun dilemma. More broadly, what can be done to reduce the horrible, little-noticed, daily U.S. slaughter caused by pistols and assault weapons? As columnist E.J. Dionne noted, about 4,000 Americans have died from bullets since the Connecticut massacre of first-graders.
Dr. Arthur Kellerman, founder of Emory University's emergency medicine department, says Americans buy guns for "protection," but that's a fantasy. "My research showed that a gun owner was 43 times more likely to shoot and kill a family member than that he's shoot and kill anybody else," he said.
West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin bravely attempted to keep guns away from criminals and psychotics -- triggering a hysterical outcry from the gun cult. But Manchin vows to keep pushing his reform. We hope he succeeds. Already, some conservative U.S. senators who voted against the Manchin plan have suffered a backlash from concerned constituents. Maybe they'll switch their votes.
America shouldn't throw up its hands and do nothing about gun horrors. Somehow, it must take intelligent steps to protect children, families and all.