Children and Guns

Thoughts on Policy Development and Child Development

In the news recently there has been a spate of sensational headlines involving children with firearms with some of those stories having tragic endings (see here and here). While I suppose it’s possible (though far fetched) for someone to argue that children have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, what is indisputable is they should not be allowed to carry firearms to school. When they do, someone is inevitably injured or killed. This concept is not a particularly controversial topic for discussion. Most people would agree that we should not allow first graders to carry guns. At the same time, in the face of compelling scientific evidence about adolescent brain development, we in Washington have a policy that allows thirteen-year-olds to make decisions about their mental health treatment, including Chemical Dependency treatment.

Given that we know that adolescent brains are not capable of making decisions that carry this kind of risk, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could justify it. While I object to this policy as a provider of care, my principle objection is that it too often paralyzes parents.

One rationale that I have often heard is that many times, parents use confinement in treatment facilities to bully and incarcerate argumentative youth. Indeed, I have seen such things happen. At the same time I have seen people driving on the highway clearly intoxicated, but I don’t conclude that we should not stop and arrest such people.

The fact is, we are the adults and are supposed to know better. I find it interesting that in the Child Welfare field, there are ardent advocates that believe that the children’s parents always know better. If that is true, maybe we ought to give all parents the same presumption of competence in all things relating to their children. In fact, we do most of the time, so it makes the State’s policy about children having the adult competence to accept or reject mental health or addiction treatment all the more curious. To allow a cocaine-addicted sixteen-year-old to check out of treatment¬† is the same as allowing the nine-year-old to carry a 9mm pistol in his or her backpack. Look for deadly outcomes from such a policy.

Contributed by Lee E. Grogg, Ryther’s Executive Director/CEO