It has been said that if you don't study history, you are doomed to repeat it.
That's why Americans should take note of a horrible tragedy that occurred one year ago this month in Merced, California. It is a tragedy that could have been prevented.
On the morning of August 23, 2000, Jonathon David Bruce was high on drugs. He slipped inside a home when the parents were away and began attacking the children inside.
Armed only with a pitchfork, and without a stitch of clothing on his body, Bruce proceeded to chase the children through the house -- stabbing them repeatedly.
The oldest of the children, Jessica Carpenter (14), was babysitting at the time. Having been trained by her father, Jessica knew how to use a firearm. There was just one problem: the household gun was locked up in compliance with California state law.
Because of California's "lock up your safety" law, Jessica had few options. She could not call 911 because the intruder had cut the phone lines to the house. She could not protect herself, for state officials had effectively removed that possibility. Her only option was to flee the house and leave her siblings behind.
Thankfully, Mr. Bruce's murderous rampage was finally cut short when police officers arrived at the house. They shot and killed Bruce, but not before two children had already been murdered.
Now, notice when the attack ended. It screeched to a halt when the good guys -- carrying guns -- showed up on the scene.
Which has made many wonder: could Jessica have protected her brother and sister if the state law had not prevented her from doing so?
Well, the family seems to think so. After the murders, Jessica's uncle, Rev. John Hilton, blasted California legislators for having scared the father into hiding the gun where Jessica, who was trained in the use of firearms, could not get it.
"If only [Jessica] had a gun available to her," said Rev. Hilton, "she could have stopped the whole thing. If she had been properly armed, she could have stopped him in his tracks."
Of course, that kind of talk sends gun haters into orbit. "Hold on," they say. "Kids shouldn't have access to guns. And you can't expect a 14-year-old to handle a weapon in a responsible fashion during a high-pressure encounter like that."
Oh really? Tell that to the 12-year-old Mississippi girl who used a gun to save her mother's life this past April.
The girl's mother was being choked in her own apartment by Anthony Fox, a 25-year-old man who had forced his way into the apartment. The cries for help woke up the daughter who grabbed her mother's handgun and shot Fox in the chest.
One shot. One dead killer. A 12-year-old saves the day.
Prosecutors ruled the shooting a case of justifiable self-defense.
Which brings us back to Jessica. She could very well have saved the lives of her two siblings. If she had access to her father's gun to save those children's lives, would that have been wrong?
For that matter, was it wrong for the 12-year-old girl in Mississippi to have access to her mother's handgun in order to prevent a murder?
In California, the answer to these questions is: "Yes, it is always wrong for anyone to have immediate access to a firearm, even when it's to save the life of a family member."
Governor Gray Davis just signed a bill last month putting more "teeth" into California's original gun storage law. Under the new legislation, parents face additional criminal penalties if they refuse to lock up their best means of self-defense.
Many legislators -- both at the state level and in Washington, D.C. -- seem to think they know what's best for each family in every situation.
Parents are told they need to put trigger locks on their guns. Or that they must store their ammunition separately from their firearms. Or that they must store the weapons in a safe.
But many times, locking up your safety in any of those ways can be deadly. Americans use guns almost 50,000 times every week to defend themselves or others. And in most of those situations, a trigger lock would give criminals the advantage.
Consider a case from March of this year, where a trigger lock would have cost the life of homeowner, Chuck Harris.
After being repeatedly stabbed by three young men in his Colorado home, Harris managed to grab the .44-Magnum pistol he kept in a desk drawer. Thankfully, Harris didn't have to remember a combination or fiddle with a trigger lock -- he just pointed the gun and fired.
That quick thinking saved his life, and has caused Harris to later reflect upon what was, perhaps, the obvious.
"If I'd had a trigger lock, I'd be dead," he said. "If my pistol had been in a gun safe, I'd be dead. If the bullets were stored separate, I'd be dead. They were going to kill me."
Which raises a very important question: when it comes to life or death issues, who is best suited to make choices for you? You, or some faceless bureaucrat who is hundreds of miles away, impotent to rush to your aid? You, or the politicians in the U.S. Congress?
It would, perhaps, help to know how those bureaucrats and politicians answer that question for themselves. They are not left unprotected. They have security officers nearby who are carrying guns.
And no, those guns don't have trigger locks on them.
Erich Pratt is the Director of Communications for Gun Owners of America.