Toddlers should be playing with flowers and other harmless objects, but recently, at least six picked up guns instead, with tragic consequences. Unsecured firearms are a significant health and safety risk, and young children account for the majority of such accidents at home because they often don’t understand what they are playing with. As the nation ignites with debate over gun control, these cases illustrate the critical need for a rational discussion on how to manage guns responsibly while ensuring public safety.
In Tennessee, Josephine G. Fanning died after being shot by a four-year-old child when he gained access to a gun that was set down just for a moment: by a law enforcement officer, no less. Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Fanning unlocked a gun case to show a rifle to a guest at a cookout, removing a handgun in the process, and the child picked it up, firing a single fatal round. While the death is being treated as an accident, it’s a stark reminder that even law enforcement officers with extensive training can make unwise decisions when it comes to handling firearms.
In South Carolina, a three-year-old is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot would. Few details about the case are available, but the child apparently found the gun and pulled the trigger, suggesting that it was lying in an area accessible to children, and had been left both loaded and unlocked.
In Alabama, another four-year-old shot himself after finding an unsecured and unlocked handgun. The revolver was in a household belonging to someone who cannot legally own firearms due to previous violent criminal convictions.
In New Jersey, a four-year-old boy shot and killed a six-year-old playmate with a rifle that “accidentally discharged.” The specifics of where the rifle was and why it was left unsecured are not clear.
In Tennessee, a mother survived an abdominal wound after her two-year-old shot her with a handgun found under her pillow. She was asleep with her new baby at the time, making it remarkable that this case didn’t turn into a double tragedy.
In Georgia, another thankfully non-fatal tale, of a toddler who found an unsecured gun under a bed and shot himself in the thumb.
These cases are being used as a compelling argument for more extensive gun control in the United States, on the ground that we shouldn’t have to fear an epidemic of armed toddlers. But they’re also an argument for cracking down on responsible gun ownership.
They all involved situations in which potentially lethal weapons were left loaded, unlocked and unsecured in an area where they could be reached by a young child. In at least one case, the gun owner had sufficient training and experience to know better when it comes to appropriate gun handling and storage, yet thought it would be okay “just for a minute” to go against protocol.
In a nation with a deeply-embedded gun culture, it’s critical not just to discuss ways to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, but also to talk about how to foster responsible, mature gun ownership. Unfortunately, the people most likely to pursue legal avenues including licensing, safety classes and refresher courses on gun safety are also those most likely to use guns responsibly, while criminals will continue to accrue weapons via illegal means, and store them unsafely.
Can the United States reform, and balance, its gun culture to protect the safety of children and members of the general public, or will extreme conservatives dominate the discussion about what nature these reforms will take?
Photo credit: LeAnn