The contrast is stark between the trade in illegal guns that occurs in Cape Girardeau's streets and those who buy and sell guns responsibly at the SEMO Gun Show at the A.C. Brase Arena Building.
The illegal sales occur covertly, with the exchange of as little as $35 or a few rocks of crack cocaine for a handgun. It would be bad enough if that were all that happened, but illegally obtained firearms seem to have a habit of turning up in bad situations.
Anton Shamon Miller and brothers Samuel Houston and Shamir Houston all were carrying illegal handguns early on the morning of Jan. 1 in Cape Girardeau. A fight broke out between Miller and Shamir Houston. Miller was shot to death, and Samuel Houston was charged with his murder.
In a story published last week in the Southeast Missourian, two streetwise men familiar with the gun trade in Cape Girardeau said many young men in town carry illegal guns because they're scared and feel powerless and have little hope. A gun is the equalizer.
When Sharmir Houston was arrested while seeking treatment at a hospital hours after the shooting, he still had a gun in his sweat pants.
At the gun show last weekend, a high school football and track coach from Imperial, Mo., was walking around in sweat pants too. He owns a gun too, a Christmas present.
The atmosphere at the gun show is one in which people who enjoy hunting or shooting guns for sport shop just like people do at a mall. They browse the goods and have a good time talking about guns.
When state prison inmates were surveyed in 1997 about past possession of a firearm, only 20 percent said they acquired them through a legal sale. Nearly 40 percent said they obtained their guns illegally. Another 40 percent got them from friends or family members.
Another gun statistic is even more shocking. From 1979 to 1999, more than 10,000 American children and teenagers died as the result of accidental shootings. Gun locks, devices that keep a firearm's action from closing, could have prevented at least some of those tragedies.
Project ChildSafe, sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is distributing locks through a $50 million grant form the U.S. Department of Justice. The locks are available free at police agencies in Chaffee, Benton, Marble Hill, Jackson and Cape Girardeau, More than half a million locks have been distributed to law enforcement agencies in the past month.
Guns are in our streets and in our homes. The least we can do is keep our children from using them as playthings.