Friday, March 3, 2017

Rural children and guns (Part III): Accidents

As I have stated in my previous posts on this subject, while children in urban communities are more likely to die from gun homicides, children in rural areas are more likely to die from gun-related suicides or accidents. This post will address the rural children who die due to an accident involving a firearm.

Of the 2,703 children who died in 2011 due to an incident involving a firearm, 140 (5%) of these deaths were due to unintentional gunfire. While accidental child firearm deaths do take place in all regions of the country (see map below), most of these incidents occur in towns with populations of less than 50,000 people (see graph below).
An Interactive Map of Unintentional Child Gun Deaths

While statistics obviously play a significant role in this discussion, I also think it is important to remember the names and the stories of the children who have died due to an accident with a firearm. While non-rural children also have died due to an accident involving a gun, for the purposes of this blog I have only provided case examples in which a child in a rural area died due to an unintentional or accidental shooting. I have indicated where the incident occurred and listed whether the county where the death happened is considered to be "mostly rural" or "completely rural" according to the US Census "County Classification Lookup Table."

This research suggests, it appears that unintentional child firearm deaths tend to happen in one of four ways: 1) a child finds a gun that has been inadequately secured, and the child then accidentally shoots themselves or others; 2) a child handles a gun that either the child or an adult does not believe is loaded; however a bullet is left in the gun and the child either shoots themselves or others; 3) while either hunting or engaging in some other form of recreational shooting, the gun either misfires or the child accidentally shoots themselves or others; 4) an adult is cleaning their gun, which accidentally discharges and strikes a child. 
Child Finding and/or Handling a Firearm 

Ryder Rozier (age 3) in Guthrie, Oklahoma (mostly rural): he found a gun in his uncle's bedroom and shot himself in the head.

Jarvan Jackson (age 11) in Lake City, Florida (mostly rural): the boy found his 2- and 4-year-old younger siblings playing with a gun. When he tried to take the gun away, the firearm accidentally went off, shooting him in the neck.

Paige McGinnis (age 13) in Ovid, Michigan (mostly rural): her 14-year-old brother was handling a shotgun that he believed to be unloaded when it went off accidentally and struck Paige in the head.

Dalton Wayne Taylor (age 10) in Marengo, Ohio (mostly rural): Dalton and his friends found a shotgun in the garage. The firearm accidentally discharged while they were handling it and Dalton was struck in the chest.

Unknown (age 5) in Mountain Village, Alaska (completely rural): the girl's 8-year-old brother had come home from hunting and while he was handling the rifle, the gun went off and struck his sister.

Brooke Sparks (age 2) in Burkesville, Kentucky (completely rural): Brooke's 5-year-old brother picked up a rifle that had been gifted to him the year before. Though the children's parents thought the gun was not loaded, a bullet was left in the rifle and he accidentally fired a shot, striking his sister.

Child Using a Firearm for Shooting Practice or Hunting 

William Rees (age 14) in Fremont County, Idaho (mostly rural): he was shooting targets when his pistol went off and he was shot in the abdomen.

Hank (age 9) outside a "remote camp" in Arkansas: he asked his uncle if he could leave their campsite to go rabbit hunting with his rifle. Hank's body was found the next morning with a bullet wound to the head, which the police believed to be caused by a hunting accident.

Adult Mishandling a Firearm

Easton Brueger (age 8) in Bennettsville, South Carolina (mostly rural): Easton's thirty-year old father was cleaning his rifle when it accidentally went off and shot Easton in the stomach.

Christopher Stanlane, Jr. (age 10) in Fairmont, North Carolina (mostly rural): Christopher was sitting in the living room where his father was cleaning a shotgun. The gun accidentally went off and shot Christopher in the head while he was watching television.

Potential Solutions 

Many of these accidental deaths were due to an unsecured firearm or the negligent handling of a gun. Currently, twenty-seven states and D.C. have child access prevention laws. These laws range from imposing criminal liability when a child accesses a negligently stored gun and then uses the firearm to cause death or serious bodily injury to only imposing penalties when an adult acts in a "reckless, knowing or intentional" manner. Because these laws do not apply in all states, it seems that one of the more effective current strategies for reducing unintentional child gun deaths may be more private and practical solutions regarding safe gun handling and storage. This especially seems like a more realistic solution given how deeply imbedded privacy and guns are in many rural communities.

As I have said in my previous posts I know very little about guns, so I asked my brother-in-law (who as a former Marine and current police officer is much more knowledgable than I am on the subject) to refer me to some sources regarding the safe handling, storage and cleaning of firearms.

According to the NRA's gun safety rules, a gun should "ALWAYS" be kept unloaded until it is ready to use; guns should be stored so they are not accessible to unauthorized people; and prior to cleaning a gun, a person should "make absolutely sure that it is unloaded." The NRA also provides a list of what to teach Pre-K through 4th graders to do if they come across a gun: stop, don't touch, run away, and tell a grown up.

Similarly, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation's "Top Ten Safety Tips": a gun should be unloaded when not in use, a firearm should be stored in a "locked cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage case when not in use, ensuring they are in a location inaccessible by children," and young people should be made aware of all safety guidelines concerning guns.

So, while I may personally believe that the best way for children to not be accidentally shot is to keep them away from guns, I recognize that in many places and in many families (especially when they are located in a rural area) this is not likely to happen. Therefore, while I would probably prefer to have this issue handled through legislation, including stricter child access prevention laws, I realize that this is unrealistic in our country's current environment. However, no matter where a person stands on the Second Amendment or the gun debate, I do think that most people can agree that when someone possesses a firearm they should follow all gun safety guidelines, whether those involve storage, handling or cleaning, especially if doing so can lessen accidental child gun deaths.


Erin Gunter said...

Your post was very well researched and I also like how you used concrete examples to illustrate the different types of accidental gun deaths. It was a nice conclusion to your rural children and guns series! The graph you used showing the unintentional child shootings by population was very informative, but I think the marked difference between urban and rural unintentional child shootings deserved more attention. You did broadly discuss gun laws, but what states have those laws, states with larger rural or urban populations? Also, the article that you cited for your graphs had some very good statistics that would have fit in well with your gun safety section. ( Such as 70% of all the unintentional child gun deaths that they studied could have been prevented by proper gun storage. The article also suggested very interesting ways to stop unintentional child gun deaths like allowing pediatricians to educate parents about responsible gun storage, including locking devices with gun sales, and fostering innovative safety technologies.

Courtney said...

This post was incredibly sad. I appreciated the statistics to situate this problem within a larger framework, but the individual stories really highlight how tragic these incidents are. I don't know who I'm upset with though. Is it the parents? I feel like yes, it is the parents... but I also understand that these parents obviously didn't want this to happen. In many of the situations you mentioned, the parents thought the guns weren't loaded. How do you combat that issue? Sure, the NRA guidelines say you should "always" store them unloaded, but there is no accountability for these guidelines. Also, why are so many of these children out hunting by themselves? I hear the people who want to argue that its a way of life in some places, but so is driving and we don't let seven-year-olds just cruise on out to the highway in the family dually. I don't know what, other than having less guns, could reduce these accidents. Gun safety seems to be the most reasonable answer, but I'm not optimistic that there are feasible ways on enforcing these suggestions and/or requirements in private homes.