194 Children Have Been Shot and Killed in America in 2013. This Has to Stop.

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 10 2013 12:02 PM

194 Children Have Been Shot and Killed in America in 2013. This Has to Stop.

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A file photo of a handgun.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

In a piece that went up today on Mother Jones’ website, Mark Follman writes that at least 194 children aged 12 and under have been shot and killed this year in America. Follman’s piece is just one part of a larger package that also includes a downloadable spreadsheet of the death data, and an affecting interactive photo gallery that goes deeper into each individual child shooting death this year. Some of these were unintentional shootings. Others were suicides, or murder-suicides. None of them had to happen.

Child shooting deaths are a huge problem, and a specifically American problem at that. Follman cites a Children’s Defense Fund study that found that America’s rate of child shooting deaths is four times higher than Canada’s and 65 times higher than the United Kingdom’s. And he notes that, in cases of unintentional child shooting deaths, the relevant gun-owning adults are almost never held responsible:

While charges may be pending in some of the 84 accidental cases, we found only 9 in which a parent or adult guardian has been held criminally liable. And in 72 cases in which a child or teen pulled the trigger, only four adults have been convicted.
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This is maddening, but not surprising. As I’ve said over and over again, America’s child access prevention laws—which aim to reduce underage gun incidents by penalizing adults who allow children to access those guns—are inconsistently written and rarely enforced. (According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 27 states and the District of Columbia have passed child access prevention laws in one form or another.) All around the country, when a child unintentionally shoots and kills himself or another child with a parent’s gun, prosecutors are reluctant to press charges against the parent and thus add to the family’s misery.

This is misplaced compassion, and it renders these laws meaningless. By refusing to apply existing child access prevention laws, authorities waste the opportunity to promote responsible gun ownership, and thus theoretically reduce the number of deaths fostered by irresponsible firearms owners. Many of the 194 deaths catalogued by Mother Jones are products of this reluctance. How many more children will die before we see a change?

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 justintrevett@fastmail.fm.