May 27, 2021
By Matt Manda
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled "Stop Gun Violence: Safe Storage" and NSSF President and CEO Joe Bartozzi was a witness.
The committee largely discussed proposed federal legislation, Ethan’s Law, to mandate firearm storage requirements and penalties on gun owners. No one disagreed on the critical importance of limiting unintentional firearm accidents and deaths.
But speaking for the firearm industry, Bartozzi touted the effectiveness and proven success record that NSSF’s safe storage initiative Project ChildSafe® has had on reducing firearm tragedies. Pillars of a responsible gun-owning community, Bartozzi said, include a focus on industry-led efforts, proactive education and individual responsibility toward safe and responsible gun storage in the home, not a one-size-fits-all federal law.
Bartozzi told Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), "What we’re talking about here, from NSSF’s perspective, is a proactive approach to educating people. Many of these proposed laws would only come into effect after a tragedy has occurred." Bartozzi continued, "It is more important to prevent a tragedy than to deal with the pieces afterwards."
Federal Law vs. Personal Responsibility
Ethan’s Law is named after Ethan Song, who accidentally shot himself while he and his friend were handling and loading an unsecured firearm in the friend’s home. The father who owned the firearm was not charged with any crime following the tragedy. The federal legislation being considered at the senate hearing would require gun owners to store their firearms in a secured safe with a locking device and unloaded while not in use to prevent minors and prohibited felons from getting ahold of them, or face penalties.
Sen. Blumenthal stated the federal government has a responsibility to implement the firearm storage mandates to reduce tragedies, but Bartozzi rebuffed the government-first approach.
"The messenger matters," he said. Bartozzi added how this particular law, as written, being implemented by the federal government would create additional mistrust and animosity among the gun-owning community. "My concern here is that gun owners might tune out or not listen to the message if it’s coming from the government…We know from our experiences with the VA [Veterans Affairs] and the AFSP [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] that the audience is more likely to respond to the message if the messenger has credibility, experience and has earned the trust of the audience."
Bartozzi offered an additional anecdote about the recognized success of Project ChildSafe. He told of how in 2013 then-Vice President Joe Biden held a White House meeting in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy and spoke to then-NSSF CEO Steve Sanetti and referring to NSSF said, "You guys are doing a lot of good things, including the gunlock thing. And this isn’t Joe Biden just blowing smoke. I mean it."
Positive Results, More Work Ahead
One witness in support of Ethan’s Law and federal firearm storage mandates was Dr. Ted Bonar, Director of End Family Fire with the Brady gun control group. Dr. Bonar stated his support for the law and the need for "evidence-based strategies" to reduce firearm tragedies.
Bartozzi provided the evidence for which Dr. Bonar was searching. "We know the program works. In the 22 years that Project ChildSafe has been in existence, we know that fatal [firearm] accidents have decreased by 40 percent," he said. "There’s a lot that goes into that, but fatal firearm accidents are at the lowest point on record since 1903. We are seeing progress and progress is a good thing – it means we’re having an impact."
No Judgment Program
Project ChildSafe is a program of the National Shooting Sports Foundation to promote firearm safety and education. In more than two decades, Project ChildSafe has partnered with firearm retailers and more than 15,000 local law-enforcement agencies in every state across the country to provide education materials and free firearm safety kits. This includes handing out more than 40 million gun cable locking devices free of charge. Recent Project ChildSafe successes include events in Detroit, Mich., and Albuquerque, N.M.
"This is a non-judgmental, no-questions-asked program," Bartozzi said. "This is not something where we’re going to check your credentials about gun ownership. We want people to be safe."