As of July 2, at least 114 children had died by guns since the horrific Newtown massacre in December, according to a dataset compiled by Slate in cooperation with readers. In roughly the last week alone, four of those deaths involved children shooting themselves or each other.
In Kentucky, a six-year-old girl died after her brother accidentally shot her. According to the available information about the case, her grandfather had taken out a pistol to clean it and set it down without confirming that it was unloaded. When her four-year-old brother picked it up to play with it — something children should be taught never to do — it discharged, killing his sister. Such an event would be traumatic for the family, but especially for the girl’s brother, who will be spending the rest of his life living with the memory of shooting his own sister in a tragic accident.
In Ohio, 12-year-old Austin Wiseman shot his nine-year-old brother, Blake Campbell. Evidence suggests Campbell died instantly from a shot to the head before Wiseman shot himself with the same gun, likely with a revolver found on the scene. Other weapons were found on site at the home where the boys had been left unattended by their grandparents. What’s not clear is why the shooting happened; there’s some speculation that Campbell’s shooting may have been an accident, and Wiseman could have shot himself out of remorse. More facts may emerge in the case, but what remains indisputable is that two boys are dead because of improperly secured firearms.
And in Louisiana, a five-year-old girl shot herself, most probably by accident, with a .38 revolver. She had been locked in a bedroom by her mother, alone, while her mother went to the store — her mother has since been booked on a charge of second degree murder. Her negligence in this case resulted in yet another unnecessary death of a child by firearm in a country where children are already dying due to domestic violence, crossfire in turbulent neighborhoods and accidental shootings by family members.
These cases come on top of some shootings by toddlers I documented earlier this year, demonstrating that this is an ongoing problem. How are so many guns getting into the hands of children, and how are things going so terribly wrong when they do?
Guns, like any tools, can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. Surely, there are many gun owners who handle their weapons with respect and caution, taking reasonable safety measures to keep them out of the hands of people who are untrained, young, or vulnerable. However, carelessness with a gun can easily lead to fatal consequences. Children are accessing guns because so many are poorly secured and improperly maintained; a loaded gun set down for even a moment can turn into a tragedy when a young child is around. Guns that aren’t secured in locked cabinets or aren’t equipped with trigger locks can become instruments of deadly accidents, and sometimes intentional shootings, depending on the situation.
In the months since the Newtown massacre, there were numerous outraged cries for gun reform, and some hasty legislation, much of which took on the role of fix-it bills that didn’t adequately address the issue. Guns need to be more tightly controlled in the United States to restrict access to those who can use them responsibly to prevent more needless deaths. The conversation about gun reform must stress that the ultimate goal is public safety, not storming into private homes to seize weapons from everyone. Extremist rhetoric erases the very real issue that people of all ages are dying in gun accidents in the U.S. simply because guns were unnecessarily available.
We can’t let up on the pressure for real, meaningful gun reform in the United States, because it can and will save lives.
Photo credit: Oakley Originals.