On Saturday, the New York Daily News reported that, since Newtown, at least 40 children 12 and under have died in “accidental” shootings—ones in which the child either shot himself or was shot by another child. Make that 41: On Sunday night a 4-year-old Ohio boy apparently shot and killed himself with an unsecured gun while his 1- and 5-year-old siblings watched. Police report that three handguns were found in the room where Raytwon Briggs was shot. It’s not yet clear who owned the guns, or how they were stored, or whether anyone will be charged in the matter. The local police chief told WKBN television that “we’re working with the theory right now that it was probably accidental but we got a long way to go yet until we can say that for sure.”
If you read this blog often, you know what’s coming next. All together now: Accidental child shootings are almost never accidents. The death of Raytwon Briggs comes one week after a 4-year-old Kentucky boy shot and killed his 6-year-old sister with their grandfather’s pistol. The man had apparently been cleaning his pistol while his grandchildren looked on, and when he set it down and stepped out of the room, his grandson grabbed the gun and pulled the trigger. Both of these incidents could’ve been prevented if the responsible adults in these situations had acted responsibly and followed basic gun safety procedures, such as not keeping three handguns in a place where a 4-year-old can easily find and access them; not cleaning your pistol while it is loaded; and not leaving it unsecured in front of unsupervised children who might just pick it up and shoot it because they’re kids and they don’t know any better.
I know I say this every week, and I’m sorry to be repetitive, but what can I do—people keep making the same mistakes. When it comes to firearm safety, negligent gun owners create their own bad luck. It’s my contention that these sorts of shootings often constitute criminal negligence, and that the relevant parents and guardians ought to be prosecuted, if only to send the message that society will not and should not stand for a cavalier approach to gun safety when children are involved.
The Daily News piece doesn’t quite go that far. But, still, there’s much to recommend it. The story offers some interesting data on the geographical distribution of these shootings. Since Newtown, seven accidental child shooting deaths (where “child” is defined as “12 and under”) have been recorded in Ohio, which, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, doesn’t have any child access prevention laws on the books.* Five have been recorded in Texas, which does.
I’m glad the paper did the work to put these numbers together. Compiling this data is the first step toward convincing legislators in states like Ohio that they have a problem, which, in turn, is the first step toward devising a solution. If you live in Ohio, tell your legislator that seven dead children are seven too many. It’s time for that state, and every one of the other 23 states that don’t have them, to put child access prevention laws on the books.
In the weeks and months to come, I will write more often about these solutions—what individuals and governments can do to reduce the number of negligent shooting deaths. But it’s just as important to simply mark as many of these incidents as they happen. Consistent reporting on children who die in negligent shootings will, hopefully, help raise awareness. Because when 41 kids die in less than seven months, it’s not just a series of isolated incidents. It’s a trend. And if enough people start to pay attention, it’s a trend that can be reversed.
*Correction, July 8, 2013: This post originally reported that there have been eight accidental child shooting deaths in Ohio since the Newtown massacre. There have been seven. The relevant sentences have been corrected.
Recent coverage of accidental child shooting deaths: The Mother of the New Orleans Girl Who Shot Herself Will Face Murder Charges. Here’s Why That’s Wrong; Two More Kids Were Shot With Their Relatives' Guns. We Need to Pass Laws to Punish the Relatives; Another “Accidental” Shooting. Another Child Dead. Another State Claims, Wrongly, That No One Is at Fault.