Two-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Kills Himself With Great-Grandfather’s Handgun

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
May 31 2013 1:15 PM

Another Day, Another “Accidental” Child Shooting Death

A placard featuring children victims of gun violence is displayed during a demonstration in front of the White House, calling for stricter gun laws.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

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

On Wednesday, a two-year-old Texas boy named Trenton Mathis accidentally shot and killed himself with a handgun he found sitting on his great-grandfather’s nightstand. According to the website of KLTV, Mathis had gone into his great-grandparents’ bedroom in search of chewing gum. Instead, he found a loaded 9 mm handgun, which he used to shoot himself in the face. Mathis was pronounced dead at a Tyler, Texas hospital. He would have turned three years old in July.


Trenton Mathis didn’t have to die. His senseless death is a direct result of this country’s baffling indifference toward the basic principles of gun safety. As I’ve written before, “accidental” child shooting deaths are almost never truly accidental. They happen because parents and guardians keep their guns loaded and unattended in unsecured locations where children can easily get to them. Mathis’ great-grandmother told KLTV that her husband thought he had locked and closed the door to the room where he kept his handgun. He was wrong.

I understand—to a point—why you might want to store your gun on your nightstand while you’re sleeping. If a robber breaks into your house, you can’t defend yourself if your gun is locked up in a safe. But, come daylight, there is absolutely no reason to leave that gun on the nightstand as you putter around the house, especially if that house is full of children. If you can’t be bothered to take two minutes to unload your handgun and put it in a gun safe, then you shouldn’t own a gun.

These incidents happen with alarming frequency, and the frustrating thing is that they’re preventable. They can be reduced by stronger, more consistent child access prevention laws; by gun-safety education campaigns; by incentivizing gun owners to purchase gun safes and install trigger locks. It’s a point I’ve made before, and it’s one that I’ll continue to make as long as children continue to die.

Yesterday, I wrote about Saylor Slone Martine, a 15-year-old Oklahoma girl who, last weekend, was shot and killed when a semi-automatic handgun owned by her parents accidentally discharged, hitting her in the head. Today, I’m writing about Trenton Mathis. By the time Monday rolls around, I’m sure there’ll be another name to add to the list of kids who might still be alive today if the adults in their lives had simply been paying attention. Kids like these:

  • Neengnco Chong, a two-year-old Minnesota boy who was accidentally shot and killed in December by his four-year-old brother, with a handgun his father stored next to a mattress;
  • Travin Varese, a two-year-old Louisiana boy who was accidentally shot and killed by his older brother in January;
  • Skyler Daniel Boring, a 17-year-old Tennessee boy who was accidentally shot and killed earlier this week in what was apparently a “war game” gone wrong;
  • Margaret “Maggie” Hollifield, a 10-year-old Virginia girl who was accidentally shot and killed at her home this month by an unnamed boy;
  • Kinsler Davis, a two-year-old Texas boy who accidentally shot and killed himself earlier this month with a handgun he found hidden in his father’s bedroom. “All the information indicates this was a tragic accident,” the local police chief told the press.

Tragic? Absolutely. But none of these shootings are accidents. Please keep emailing me, via the "Tips? Contact Us" button on the right-hand side of this page, whenever you see stories about “accidental” child shooting deaths. Attention must be paid.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at



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