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Killing Tatay

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:49:00 06/25/2009

Filed Under: Children, Firearms

PRIVATE First Class Apolonio Pacioles was home from the battlefield. He had managed to go on leave?from the Army?s 54th Infantry Battalion, based currently somewhere in Mindanao?just in time for Father?s Day. He returned to his house in Quezon City on Saturday, and he was up early the following day. At about 6 a.m, he asked his five-year-old son to do something for him: fetch his service firearm for him.

A poignant passage in the news report that appeared in the Inquirer?s Metro section retells the rest of the story. ?Despite his young age, the boy already knew how to handle a gun, having been taught by his father. ?But apparently, the boy was not able to take out all the bullets and one was left [in the chamber],? [a police officer] said.?

The Associated Press story adds the following chilling detail: After the son had removed the magazine, ?Pacioles ignored the boy who then cocked the gun?s hammer with his finger on the trigger and shot his 45-year-old father in the abdomen.?

The ironies at the center of this domestic tragedy tug at the heart.

? The father survived postings in actual combat zones; he died in an accident, in his own living room.

? He taught his son how to handle guns from a tender age; he became a victim of the very lessons his son learned from him. (A little learning is truly a dangerous thing.)

? The father asked his son for help, one of those simple chores that a dutiful child willingly, even gladly, does. (We can imagine the child doing it with even more gusto, early that Father?s Day.) His son accidentally killed him in the very act of obeying.

? He taught his son how to handle a gun; he didn?t teach him the most vital lesson of all: Guns kill.

We commiserate with the Pacioles family; the mother was grazed by the bullet too, and we fear the boy may be scarred for life. It is difficult to imagine the personal hell they are going through.

But it is precisely because we are horrified by the accident that we must try to understand its significance, scan it for some deeper meaning.

We can start with that vital lesson: Guns kill. Those who disagree with or dispute the premises of the Gunless Society advocacy of the tireless Nandy Pacheco often use a slogan imported from the United States, whose federal constitution has, famously, a provision specifying the right to bear arms.

?Guns don?t kill people,? the slogan goes. ?People kill people.?

At first glance, this seems to be a more reasonable axiom than the other famous slogan popularized by pro-gun advocates: to wit, ?If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.? This second principle is mere sophistry, a too-clever definition. The first seems reasonable. After all, even the five-year-old boy in the Quezon City accident had to pull the trigger first.

But on closer look, the axiom doesn?t add up. It is a fact that people have been killed by misfiring or dropped weapons. It is a fact that, as in any human invention involving explosives, a gun can be the source of a deadly accident. It is a fact that, in whatever legal jurisdiction one can think of, a five-year-old boy cannot be considered to have reached the age of reason.

While it would be difficult and perhaps undesirable to pass legislation that would make it a crime for parents or older relatives or even coaches to teach children below a certain age how to handle guns, we must still find a way to discourage the handling of guns by persons who cannot be sufficiently safety-conscious. A five-year-old may have the practical dexterity to remove a magazine, but we doubt if he has the psychological maturity to know that playing with a gun or pulling a gun?s trigger must be preceded by an analysis of risk. (To be sure, we can say the same of much older persons, too, such as guards or servicemen firing their guns into the air on New Year?s Eve, who do not fully recognize the responsibility that comes with carrying a gun.)

That analysis of risk includes not only checking whether the gun user has done all he can to make sure that the gun is safe, but also making allowance for the possibility of accidents, mechanical or otherwise.

On both counts, we think that a child below the age of reason, no matter how favored or devoted, is simply not ready to run that kind of risk.

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