One category of gun deaths goes beyond even National Rifle Association-inspired “no restrictions on guns” inanity: when small children get guns and accidentally shoot someone.
It happens far too often:
- Elmo, Mo.: A 5-year-old found his grandpa’s loaded gun and killed his 9-month-old baby brother with a shot in the head.
- Emerson, Neb.: A 4-year-old got a rifle from a gun case underneath a bed and shot his mother while playing with it. The bullet went through a wall and a recliner, hitting her in the side.
- Newark, N.J.: A 9-year-old girl was shot by her 12-year-old brother playing with a handgun in their home. The mother faced child-endangerment charges.
- Hayden, Idaho: A 2-year-old killed his 29-year-old mother in a Walmart. She had a loaded weapon in her purse and a concealed-weapons permit.
- Tulsa, Okla: An Army veteran, 26, was killed after being shot in the head by her 3-year-old son. The child found a handgun and fired one shot.
- Louisville, Ky.: A 4-year-old accidentally killed herself when she grabbed a handgun left by a relative on a piece of furniture. Charges against the relative were dropped.
- Cleveland: A 1-year-old boy was killed by a 3-year-old family member when he picked up a gun, which went off. “It’s a sad day for Cleveland,” said Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams on newsnet5, an ABC affiliate. “This fascination we have with handguns … in this country has to stop. This is a senseless loss of life.” The person responsible for bringing the weapon into the home and leaving it where the child could get to it was said to likely face charges.
- Detroit: A 30-year-old Michigan mother was charged with second-degree child abuse after her 4-year-old son shot himself in the thigh. She apparently fell asleep on the couch after returning from a shooting range, leaving her handgun in her holster.
Locally, deaths and injuries from guns are in the news virtually every day, and the headlines are cumulatively alarming. Statistics show that more than 2 million American children live in homes with unsecured guns—and as many as 1.7 million of those homes include guns which are loaded and unlocked. More than two-thirds of accidental shootings by children could have been avoided if guns had been responsibly stored, according to Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“Nearly two children are killed in unintentional shootings in America each week,” Watts wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post. “America’s epidemic of gun violence has been sustained for so long that even toddlers and children shooting children is becoming a terrifying new normal.”
Moms Demand Action is the national organization Watts began after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Conn. The group is dedicated to demanding action from lawmakers, companies and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun-law reforms that protect children: child access prevention (CAP) laws. Although the NRA says such laws infringe on Second Amendment rights, polling shows that about 82 percent of Americans—and 81 percent of gun owners—favor allowing charges against adult gun owners if a child gets a negligently stored gun, and death or serious injury results.
Dori Smith, a Palm Desert resident since 1999, feels we’ve gone backward since Sandy Hook.
“Part of what we loved here, coming from Connecticut with lots of time spent in New York, was how safe we felt,” she says. “But now, murders—particularly gun murders—–are seemingly increasing even in our beautiful valley.”
Dori decided to join Moms Demand Action and start a local chapter. The kickoff meeting was held in a park with about 15 local residents: a retired rabbi and his wife; a former NRA member and proud gun owner who wants smarter laws to protect children; an elder-law lawyer and his wife who believe we need common-sense laws that hold adults responsible; two retired teachers who are concerned about guns on school grounds; and others with specific connections to gun violence. One person has a son who was held up at gunpoint; another has a mentally ill cousin who bought guns in a state with lax laws; another has a friend who was shot.
Marlene Levine, a 12-year resident of La Quinta who has been in the desert for 35 years, recalls an incident when her son was in the second-grade and was with a young friend—who wanted to show off the gun in his lunch box.
“To this day,” she says, “I remain thankful for the alert playground aide who saw that something odd was happening.”
There are no federal CAP laws or any national requirements for gun owners to safely store firearms. California is one of 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have enacted criminal liability on persons who negligently store firearms where anyone under 18 could get access, regardless of whether the minor actually gains access or uses the gun.
These laws do make a difference. A 1999 study found that more than 75 percent of the guns used in youth-suicide attempts or resulting in unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend. CAP laws resulted in lowered suicide rates among 14- to 17-year-olds, as well as a decrease in unintentional injury in homes with children. In 12 states where such laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23 percent among children younger than 15.
Dori Smith wants to expand the influence of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here in the Coachella Valley.
“This is an issue that should transcend politics,” she says. “It’s about keeping our children safe.”
As Moms founder Shannon Watts says, “There is no such thing as an accidental shooting when it involves a child shooting himself or herself or another person with a carelessly stored gun. It’s due to an adult gun owners’ negligence.”
We should not be satisfied that California has stiff CAP laws when children in other states are at risk. As a nation, we can surely do better.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.