Today’s incident of a local child taking a loaded gun to school raises many questions and concerns about children, guns and loaded guns. The child involved in today’s incident claimed that he took the gun to school on a dare, and did not intend to use it. Yet it is precisely the kind of behavior that most often results in the death or injury of another child, according to several recent studies.
First, I want to be very clear that my intention is not to criticize the parents of the child who took the gun to school today. Nor do I want to criticize any other parents or children. My goal in this post is simple: to raise up some statistics many of us do not know about, and to remind everyone who owns one or more guns of any kind of what we know about children, guns and loaded guns.
Data about Children and Guns
Every year, approximately 1300 children die and another 5790 are injured by guns in the U.S. This is 19 child deaths every day by gunshot.
Firearm-related injuries are the third leading cause of death of children aged 1 – 17.
Gun injury is the second leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S., second only to auto and vehicle crash deaths.
As the child and teen suicide rate continues to rise, guns are the leading method of suicides and suicide attempts.
International studies indicate that 91 percent of firearm deaths of children aged 0 to 14 years among all high-income countries worldwide occur in the United States.
Facts We May Not Know about Children and Loaded Guns
According to the Pew Research report, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns,” 38 percent of gun owners “say there is a gun that is both loaded and easily accessible to them all of the time when they are at home.” It should be noted that 95 percent gun owners “believe that talking to children about gun safety is essential, followed by 66 percent who say all guns should be kept in a locked place when there are children living in the home.”
A majority of those who do not own guns believe that gun owners with children living in the home should keep their guns unloaded and in a separate place from the ammunition. Interestingly, “when asked about their own habits, roughly half of gun owners with children under 18 living at home say all of the guns in their home are kept in a locked place (55%) and all are unloaded (53%).”
Of the annual deaths of children from firearms injuries (from 2012 to 2014), 53 percent were homicides, 38 percent were suicides, and 6 percent were unintentional firearm deaths.
According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, “Both younger and older children were more likely to be unintentionally shot and killed by someone else than from an unintentional self-inflicted injury, although the proportion unintentionally shot by someone else was higher for older children (71%) than for younger children (56%). When the fatal injury was from another person, the shooter was most often another younger child in deaths of children aged 0 – 12 years. Older children were mostly shot by someone similar in age.” The majority of these injuries occurred in a home.
Also taken from the study in Pediatrics, “The most common circumstance surrounding unintentional firearm deaths of both younger and older children was playing with a gun. Older children, relative to younger children, more often died in incidents involving showing a gun to others and/or mistakenly thinking the gun was unloaded or the safety was engaged. A gun was mistaken for a toy in 16 percent of younger children’s deaths.”
Approximately 1.7 million children aged 18 and under live in households with loaded and unlocked firearms. In another study reported by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 73 percent of children aged nine and under reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36 percent admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents had reported their children did not know the location of their firearms.
Keeping Children Safe Around Guns
There is a significant divide between many gun owners and many non-owners about how to keep children safe in a home with guns.
Both owners and non-owners agree that teaching and talking with children about guns and gun safety is vital.
Some owners and many non-owners would argue that guns should be kept unloaded and with a safety on at all times. Many would say that the guns should be locked up and that ammunition should be stored in a different place.
I think all parents (and non-parents) would agree that the most important question about children, guns and loaded guns is how to keep the children safe. Clearly all children must be taught that guns are not toys. Until all of our children understand the dangers of guns and how easily accidental death or injury can result from handling a loaded gun, children will be curious about guns, and they will engage in risky behavior (because they do not really understand the risk) both alone and around other children. That a child would take a loaded gun to school mere days after the nightmare in Florida is a stark reminder of a child’s limited capacity for understanding risk or understanding the consequences of their actions.
If your school, church, or other groups wants to have this kind of discussion and you need a speaker or facilitator, I am available to help.