Friday, January 27, 2017

Rural children and guns (Part I): The basics of children gun deaths in rural v. urban communities

As an individual who grew up almost exclusively in suburban areas, I have had very little personal experience with rural communities. When I was really young I associated rural areas with "the country," which at the time I believed was composed of ranches filled with beautiful horses. I would dream of the day I could own my own land and have as many live horses as I did plastic ones (which was a truly excessive amount). As I grew older and was exposed to more media portrayals of rural communities, my association with rural communities changed from horses to guns. It seemed like anytime I watched a movie or read a book that involved individuals living in rural areas, they were always either hunting or shooting at each other.

As I did not see a gun in real life until I was twenty-two, reading about and seeing the casualness with which both adults and children handled guns was completely alien to me. While I have begun to understand rural communities more as I have grown older and met individuals from such areas, I still am baffled by the protectiveness (both rural and urban) individuals tend to feel about their gun rights, as well as their comfort with a weapon that can so easily kill or injure. I remain particularly perplexed by how often children are allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, to handle these potentially deadly weapons.

Given how many different aspects there are of the culture surrounding children and guns in rural communities, this will be the first of several posts regarding this topic. This first post will deal with the basics of children gun deaths in rural v. urban communities in America. In later posts I will take a deeper look at the issues surrounding rural children and guns in terms of hunting, suicides, and accidents.

The basics of children gun deaths in rural v. urban communities.

In the US, an average of seven children are killed by guns everyday and American children are killed by guns eleven times as often as children in other similarly high-income countries. Indeed, firearms are one of the leading causes of death among children, killing more minors than cancer and heart disease. Additionally, in 2007, eighty-five pre-school-aged children died a gun related death in the United Stated, which was more than the amount of police officers who were killed in the line of duty that year. According the Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement of Americans attempting to end gun violence, there have already been at least thirteen child shootings in 2017.

While children gun deaths happen in all regions and states in the US, where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths for all types of intents (including homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings). In a 2013 Gallup poll, rural Americans were more than twice as likely to have a gun in their home than those living in urban cities.

Children in rural communities often grow up around guns and are taught gun safety. While sometimes these gun safety lessons are taught by family members, gun safety classes are also offered to rural children, which some believe is a way to pass on the communities' tradition of gun ownership. Indeed, many American families view guns as a way to bring the family together.

There is a commonly held belief that children in rural areas do not die due to guns at the same rate as their urban peers because people often seem to associate gun deaths with murders or other violent crimes that occur in urban areas. However, a 2010 study completed by the American Journal of Pediatrics found that children in rural counties experienced a firearm mortality rate that was essentially indistinguishable to the rate at which children in urban counties die from guns. Indeed, in 2011, the "crude youth firearm death rates in the most urban counties... when compared with the most rural counties... [was] 4.64 and 4.04, respectively."

The main difference between child gun deaths in these communities is that children in urban counties tend to die more often from gun homicides while children in rural communities tend to die because of either gun suicides or accidents. My next blog posts will address the reasons for these differences.


Orchid64 said...

"I especially remain particularly perplexed by how often children are allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, to handle these potentially deadly weapons."

I am stunned that you write about rural living - legal aspects or otherwise - with so little deep insight into the culture. I am an anti-gun person who was brought up in a rural environment. Despite my feeling that private citizens shouldn't have guns, I do understand rural culture in this regard (I can understand it without agreeing with it). One of the huge issues that urban and suburban folks have is in really understanding the limits of rural life. Gun culture operates around two core related aspects - that people have to be self-sufficient and that you are responsible for your own protection.

I will start with the latter as it is the most easy to comprehend. People in rural communities live often in isolation with limited resources. If they experience a threat (a bear, a wolf, a thief, etc.), the police will not come quickly and sometimes not at all. If you don't accept this reality, find some of the community pages for rural areas on Facebook and see how often people talk about a wolf tearing apart their pets or a break in, trespasser coming to their homes. Would you want to be completely helpless in those situations with the knowledge that help could not arrive for quite some time (and, if the limited police forces are occupied, not at all)? Given the circumstances, guns provide one of the few means of self-protection.

In regards to the former (self-sufficiency), consider that people live in a situation with few community resources, few jobs, and little in the way of educational resources. They have no advocates and few network advantages (aside from local churches quite often) so they have little choice but to be self-sufficient. Part of self-sufficiency is food acquisition. To that end, many rural communities have hunting culture and consume the animals they kill. When I was growing up in rural poverty, my father getting a deer during the hunting season meant we saved an enormous amount of money on food and had an easier time paying for fuel in the winter. The use of guns in this regard are a continuation of early pioneer culture, which still lives more strongly among rural communities who face something more akin to the same isolation and hardship.

When I was in 7th grade, I was given shooting lessons at school. Guns to rural kids are tools like a pitchfork or a frying pan. Urban and suburban kids hold a very different image and relationship to guns than rural ones do. Just as a child in my school might run and use the family tractor (something dangerous and usually operated by adults), a child may also have a gun and shoot animals. My father insisted on my having a hand gun when I was in my teens because it was the only way he felt comfortable with my sister and I being left alone in our isolated home while he and my mother went out. Our nearest neighbor was a few miles away. If anything had happened (an intruder), we would have been defenseless if it weren't for the guns in the house.

Your comprehension of guns is very different than that of a rural person, and you make assumptions about their relationship with them based on your own subjective, often glamorized and romanticized notions based on media rather than any practical knowledge or down-to-earth ideas of how guns fit into rural living.

Willie Stein said...

I am interested to see where this series of posts takes you, it's an interesting start. I'd caution you to beware of relying too heavily on statistics and demography of gun ownership and gun deaths. One fallacy I've seen repeatedly on the anti-gun left is that gun deaths can be treated as a public health problem. Framing the issue in terms of an 'epidemic' flattens the difference between deaths from accidents and deaths from homicide or suicide. Data science enamored social scientists have recently been talking about the social transmission of violence, as if it's tuberculosis or ebola, but such approaches deny the fact that just about every gun death requires volitional conduct, either willful storage or handling of a gun in an unsafe way in the case of accidents, or the intent to kill in the case of homicide.

All this is to say: I don't think you're doing that in this post. It's very important to quantify child gun deaths, but be careful about diving too deep into numbers, and I think it's easy to bump into some fallacious reasoning doing so. As someone interested in rhetoric, I'd be really curious to know how the NRA describes its political pushback against requiring safety measures to reduce accidental child gun deaths, or whether it's just silent as manufacturers refuse to incorporate such features.

I'd also like to learn more about how rural people frame the idea of familiarizing children with guns, in their own words. I would imagine the arguments from self-reliance and utility would be used. What about arguments from political necessity (are kids being taught to venerate the "well regulated militia"?)

Wynter K Miller said...

I'm especially curious to read the next in this line of posts, which you have stated will explore the reasons for gun deaths in urban vs. rural communities. The initial evidence you have proffered seems, at least on the surface, counter-intuitive. If rural Americans receive greater levels of gun safety training and are generally more comfortable with firearms (as suggested by statistics like: "rural Americans [are] more than twice as likely to have a gun in their home than those living in urban cities"), why is it that children in rural communities are more susceptible to accidental gun death?

Another possibly salient point that I would raise is that while it very well might be true that more guns necessarily suggests more gun deaths, can't this observation be made of every hypothetically dangerous activity/possession? I'm thinking things like: "There is a general trend that where there are more motor vehicles, there are more motor vehicle deaths for all types of intents (including homicides, suicides, and car accidents)." How much does a general trend like this really tell us, and does it distract from more practical concerns (e.g., the concern Willie raises re: safety features)?

I know this is only your first post in a series, and you'll be developing these initial thoughts and statistics further — can't wait to read.

K. Harrington said...

I enjoyed your initial post, Jenna, and I look forward to reading the future posts in your series as you explore this fascinating topic. As a individual who did grow up in a rural community and is somewhat familiar with guns (although I never took a gun-safety class), I think that the values that drive the idea of familiarizing children with guns do stem, in part, from the tradition of self-reliance. From my understanding, many gun-safety classes offered to adolescents are directed towards hunting education and designed to prevent hunting accidents and tragedies. These justifications make sense to me, if children are growing up in a home where they have access to hunting guns, then they should be taught how to correctly respect their capabilities and understand how a gun should be used in a hunting capacity.

That being said, I'm not sure that I completely buy into the self-protection rationale put forth by Orchid64 as applied to children. Although there are circumstances when using a gun can save a life, I would argue that children, including adolescents, are not developmentally ready to make the decision about whether to fire a hand gun at a human being. To me it seems that instructing a child on how to use a hand gun against an intruder would be more likely to lead to accidents and tragedies, than to saving lives. In my opinion, the idea of children learning about guns with respect to hunting is a very different scenario than children learning about guns as self-protection against other humans.

In your upcoming posts, you might want to consider reviewing state laws about youth hunting. I know that in the state of Michigan, children less than 10 years of age can participate in organized hunting with their parents, allowing them the opportunity to kill larger game, like deer.

EAG said...

I enjoyed your post and am interested to see what gun issues you explore in your next post. I am also perplexed by how often children are encouraged to use guns in rural areas and am interested to read more about what you find to explain that phenomenon.

I think that the different ways children are encouraged to use guns in both rural and urban communities is worth analyzing. From your research, it appears that neither urban nor rural areas effectively handle the issue of guns and children since both areas have too many children dying of gun-related causes. It would be interesting to see if any similarities existed between how guns are treated in urban and rural environments and to see if a solution can be found to lower the rates of children gun deaths. There may also be positive aspects of both urban and rural gun cultures that may be beneficial to implement in the other area. Too often discourse on guns revolves around deaths in urban areas and something may be learned by a rural comparison.

I look forward to reading your next post!

ofilbrandt said...

I agree with Kelley (above) that Orchid64's point lack support in finding that self-defense justifies gun possession. Indeed it would seem that having guns for self-protection would decrease gun-related deaths in rural populations where people are able to defend themselves from would-be attackers, human or non-human. Statistics that could clarify the original piece may compare accidental deaths to intentional/malicious killings to those done purely in self-defense. Do people really need guns in schools to protect from grizzly bears? Do guns make a difference when one is attacked by a grizzly bear? Even gun advocates and advisors recommend using your brain to scare it, run away, and hit it before resorting to using a gun.

I also am not convinced by Orchid64's point that hunting justifies gun possession. Economically, a quick google search shows that the cheapest hunting rifle is about $150, ammunition is $20, a CA hunting license is $50-165, an additional "big game permit" for a single deer is $30-270, and requisite gear to stay warm and covered is $200+. This does not include the cost lodging and travel to get to areas that permit hunting. Further, curing and storing of the meat is time consuming and expensive. While there are only a few meat delivery options, my point is that hunting isn't cheap either.

Ecologically, the jury is still out on the environmental benefits and pitfalls of hunting. Indeed, the leading argument against it is that the vast majority of the animals killed "provide minimal sustenance and do not require population control." While this does not address deer specifically, the benefits of hunting are still up for debate. However, it has been conclusively shown that the hunting of large game has a disastrous effect on trees at least.

I admit further research on issues of gun possession for hunting is needed. I look forward to the author's successive pieces.

Erin Gunter said...

I apologize for commenting twice, but I recently read a book that may be helpful on this topic. Another Day in the Death of America chronicles the deaths of 10 children from guns all across America. One of the chapters focuses on Tyler Dunn who was killed by an accidental shooting in rural Michigan. The guardian published edited excerpts of the book, including the chapter on Tyler Dunn ( The deaths discussed in the book occur both in rural and urban areas and the author does a good job of identifying the common themes and differences between rural and urban gun deaths.