Police called it an “altercation.” Sitting in class, a 6-year-old in Newport News, Va., pulled out a handgun he had brought from home, aimed it at his teacher and pulled the trigger.
If it wasn’t for the heroism of that 25-year-old teacher, Abigail Zwerner, things could have been worse. Badly wounded, she somehow managed to lead her students to safety before passing out.
How could this happen? To me, the only surprise was the boy’s target.
As former chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), I had seen children kill people every year using their parents’ guns. And though I was charged with keeping products safe, I was powerless to act.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that guns killed 3,597 children in 2021. In 2020, that number eclipsed children’s deaths from cancer or car accidents. And 2022’s numbers are almost certain to be worse.
Let me be clear: I am not writing about guns to pin blame on the National Rifle Association for mass killers in classrooms, though it bears plenty of responsibility. And there are many reasons for the rise in gun deaths, including rates of gun ownership, the unsettling effects of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and, yes, crime rates.
But who should receive most of the blame? Congress.
My agency exists to protect consumers by making products safe. When it comes to children, Congress happily lets the agency regulate thousands of products, including toys, strollers, cribs, refrigerators and bicycles. I’m proud of the way our little agency has made these items safer.
But notice what’s missing from that list: guns. Why? Isn’t a handgun or rifle a consumer product? Of course. Don’t consumers buy them? Of course they do.
But when crafting the 1972 law that created the agency, the Consumer Product Safety Act, Congress created a carveout for firearms because of pressure from gun lobbyists. As a result, the CPSC has never been able to touch them.