Another “Accidental” Child Shooting Death Shows that Child Shooting Deaths Are Not Accidental

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
May 30 2013 12:44 PM

Another “Accidental” Child Shooting Death Shows that Child Shooting Deaths Are Not Accidental

Eight-year-old Dakota Stevenson looks over Walthers pistols at the Smith & Wesson booth during the 136th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in St. Louis, Mo.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

Last Sunday, 15-year-old Saylor Slone Martine died after she was shot in the head with a semi-automatic handgun that belonged to her parents. (The Poteau, Okla. Daily News says Martine’s mother had recently purchased the gun for “personal protection.”) Martine and her 12-year-old sister had been handling the gun when they laid it down on a counter, where it “suddenly discharged,” according to the Times Record. Martine died in the hospital. The sheriff speculated that the incident might have been caused by a “production defect” with the handgun. Just another one of those sad, tragic accidents.


There may well be more to this story, because handguns typically don’t just accidentally discharge, especially if they’re just sitting on a counter. It happens, but rarely. But that’s not my main point. As sick as I am of seeing these sorts of stories—and I see a lot of them—I’m even more sick of seeing them characterized as unforeseeable, unpredictable accidents. The incidents themselves might be random, but there is nothing random about the circumstances behind them.

Children die in accidental shootings because inattentive parents leave their guns lying around, with ammunition chambered, in unsecured places where untrained shooters can access them. They step outside when their children are handling their guns, just like Saylor Martine’s mother did. They understand little about gun safety, and they pass that ignorance on to their children. These shootings are a direct result of a cavalier approach to gun safety—and of the inconsistency and inadequacy of the laws that are supposed to motivate people to take gun safety more seriously.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only 27 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have child access prevention laws on the books, and those laws vary widely in scope and strength. (Though Oklahoma does have child access prevention laws, they wouldn’t apply in this case, because parents can only be held liable for giving children access to guns when they do so knowing it is likely that their children will use those guns to commit a crime.) This is ridiculous. Every state ought to have these laws on the books, and they ought to be standardized, strengthened, and rigorously enforced.

I can’t imagine the grief Saylor Martine’s parents are feeling right now, and it seems a bit cold to suggest that they should be fined or prosecuted. But doing so may well prevent the next accident by persuading other parents to unload their damn guns, and lock them up where their children can’t get to them. When it comes to gun safety, ignorance is negligence, and negligence is too often fatal. Saylor Martine gets shot in the head while stooping down to pick up her cell phone. A five-year-old Kentucky boy accidentally shoots and kills his two-year-old sister with a rifle that his parents stored “in a corner.” A six-year-old New Jersey boy accidentally shoots and kills his four-year-old neighbor with a rifle he allegedly found hidden under a bed. There are many, many others.

I’m going to keep covering these stories. Attention needs to be paid to this problem in order to convince people that there is a problem, and not just a series of isolated incidents. But I need your help. If you see a story about a child who dies in an accidental shooting, please email me. These incidents can be reduced if we just start paying attention.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough, So They Added Self-Immolation

Why Hillary Clinton and Other Democrats Are Shrewd to Frame All Issues As “Women’s Issues”

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.