Earlier this week, an 11-year-old boy in Memphis, Tenn., walked out of his house shortly before 7:00 a.m. and crossed the street to wait for his bus to school. As he stood at the bus stop, the boy noticed a small-caliber handgun abandoned in the grass next to his bus stop. He picked up the gun and, while examining it, unintentionally discharged it, shooting himself in his right hand.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t unique. Every year, hundreds of American children gain access to irresponsibly stored firearms and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. After a two-year-old boy in South Carolina unintentionally shot and killed himself on Wednesday morning, it has now happened at least 200 times across the country this year, according to Everytown and Moms Demand Action’s #NotAnAccident Index – once every 30 hours, a rate significantly higher than in 2015 and 2016. And while the boy in Memphis survived – his grandmother drove him to the hospital, where he was treated for non-life threatening injuries – at least 81 people, almost all of them children, have died as a result of these incidents so far this year. Florida (16 incidents); South Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee (14 incidents each); and Texas (13 incidents) have seen the most of these tragedies this year.
Our research shows that the overwhelming majority of these incidents – 97 percent of the shootings so far this year – reasonably could have been prevented had the gun been stored responsibly, as defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics: locked and unloaded, stored separately from ammunition. Research shows that nearly 1.7 million American children live in homes with guns that are not stored responsibly, and the vast majority (81 percent) of the incidents so far this year were with a gun the child found in their own, or a relative’s, home or car. Because kids will be kids, it is always an adult’s responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns.
And the importance of responsible storage doesn’t stop at preventing unintentional shootings by children. Every day, at least one child takes his or her own life with a gun. More than 80 percent of children who die by gun suicide use a gun found at home, and while suicide attempts are often impulsive, those who attempt suicide with a gun don’t often get a second chance: 90 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death. Given this, child suicide is frequently preventable through responsible firearm storage. When children can’t access guns in their moments of crisis, they are far less likely to die, even if they attempt suicide by another method.
Taken together, this data indicates that we have the power to prevent tragedies like these from happening. To that end, Everytown and Moms Demand Action have encouraged responsible firearm storage through the Be SMART campaign, which seeks to prevent suicides and unintentional shootings by children by encouraging gun owners and non-gun owners alike to help ensure that children never get unauthorized, unsupervised access to guns. By starting this conversation about responsible gun storage in our communities, we can let people know about the simple things that everyone – gun owners and non-gun owners alike – can do to prevent unintentional shootings by children.
To learn more about our research, the #NotAnAccident Index, or the Be SMART campaign, please don’t hesitate to reach out.