Airbags & Gun Control


Illuminant by
Scott Farrell


December 2000


Much political hot air has been expended claiming that the recent attacks on gun owners — waiting periods, "smart gun" regulations, lawsuits against the industry — have been perpetrated to "make our country safe for the children." But one very astute columnist pointed out just how hypocritical that claim is.

The article was featured in Car & Driver magazine where, interestingly enough, we learn that government requirements for automotive airbags are about as popular among car enthusiasts as 10-round magazine limits are with gun collectors. Author Patrick Bedard, in his September 1999 column, explains why.

Last year, Dwight Childs, 29, ran a red light, resulting in a 10-mph crash. It was exactly the sort of mistake airbag supporters have always said "you shouldn't have to die for". Childs' two-month-old son, strapped into a rear-facing child seat on the passenger side of a 1997 Ford F-150 pickup, was killed by the airbag, and Childs was charged with vehicular homicide.

The man's crime? He didn't switch off the airbag.

I'll boil it down for you. First, government forced this man to buy airbags, because bureaucrats in Washington know better than he what's needed for his well-being. Then, when he failed to deactivate the safety feature he was compelled to buy, (the government) sent him to jail. Airbags have turned America's sense of justice on its head.

Doesn't anyone notice the irony here? We live in an era in which political hacks grab for sainthood by pushing programs "for our children". In his (1999) state-of-the-union address, President Clinton (said), "in memory of all the children who lost their lives to school violence, I ask you to pass legislation to require child trigger locks, to do everything possible to keep our children safe."

Just a few months later, the massacre at Columbine High School pushed to the redline our national anxiety about guns. Never mind that at least 17 weapons-control laws were broken by the killers — anti-gunners called for still more laws. I understand their alarm. Since 1993, 82 students have been murdered in shootings at schools.

But here's a greater tragedy. During that same period, 99 children have been killed by airbag deployments. You'd think a President eager "to do everything possible to keep our children safe" would have noticed this looming body count from a child killer more lethal than guns. Unless, that is, our society has done the unspeakable and made a deal with itself to trade off the lives of these kids to save a few adults.

Of course, this has always been the "dirty little secret" of the gun-control lobby: If they wanted to do something to "save the children", there are many more effective causes they could champion. Household items and recreational equipment account for many more accidental deaths of children each year than do firearms — but getting people to give up their SUVs, swimming pools, three-wheeled dirt bikes or power tools is a less popular cause than pointing fingers at gun owners.

One has to wonder, in light of Bedard's story, if a similar situation might occur for a gun owner some day:

A father, concerned for the safety of his family, buys a firearm to protect his home and loved ones. In accordance with state and federal laws (and with his own sense of responsibility) he buys a nice strong trigger lock to go along with the gun, and keeps the weapon stored with the lock in place and the key safely secured where his children cannot access it. Then, one night he is awakened by the sound of breaking glass. His home is invaded by violent criminals, and before he can unlock his gun, he and his wife are savagely beaten and his children are killed. Then, the police arrive and put the 'cuffs on the father, charging him with accessory to the crime for failing to unlock and use his home-defense gun.

Sound a bit far-fetched? Maybe. (But so does putting a father in jail for having a working airbag system in his motor vehicle.) Consider, however, that even if the police didn't arrest our gun-owning father for failing to deactivate his government-mandated gun lock in time of need, it's possible that his insurance company might find him negligent, leaving him with tens of thousands of dollars of bills. Or, his HMO might refuse treatment for him and his surviving family members.

Before you dismiss the possibility entirely, ask yourself these two questions: If the law required gun owners to use a gun for personal defense if one was available, would that discourage people from buying guns at all? And, will gun-control advocates go to any length to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens? As Bedard said, the American system of justice has been turned on its head.

Liberty is the ability to make choices — to own a gun, to use an airbag, to go to church, or to read a book — without pressure from the government. Fortunately there are still some people — both gun owners and responsible drivers — who treasure the ability to be able to think, and act, for themselves.


© 2001 Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell's
AMA's Gun Policy:
Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?

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