Children and the Loaded Guns They Find at Home - Pacific Standard

Children and the Loaded Guns They Find at Home

An equation as preventable as it is tragic.
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(PHOTO: FRANK ANUSEWICZ/SHUTTERSTOCK)

(PHOTO: FRANK ANUSEWICZ/SHUTTERSTOCK)

We knew it was bad, but we might not have known it was this bad. According to a new statistical study announced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 7,500 children are hospitalized by gun injuries every year—500 of whom will eventually die from those injuries. The study also noted a sharp increase in these incidents from 1997 to 2009, and found that the majority of the injuries and deaths were resulting from handguns in the home.

The fact that handguns are the most frequent culprits is significant, the researchers point out, because so many gun-control campaigns tend to focus on larger, military-style assault rifles. Gun-control advocates may be overlooking a more important and much larger target, no pun intended.

Justin Peters argues that negligence with firearms is criminal, and parents who leave unsecured, loaded guns around young children should be prosecuted when that carelessness results in injuries and deaths.

From these statistics, the researchers offer the most obvious and non-controversial possible conclusion: “Reducing the number of household firearms, especially handguns, may reduce childhood gunshot injuries,” reads the press release (emphasis on the word may). But, while obvious, this conclusion is also only the beginning of a necessary national discussion. What about securing the guns that remain in homes to ensure that they don’t find their ways into the curious and clumsy hands of children? What about punishing the gun owners who don’t take these absolutely necessary precautions?

This seems as good a time as any to plug and applaud the tireless campaign by Justin Peters over at Slate’s crime blog to bring light to this issue, and to document its young victims. He argues that negligence with firearms is criminal, and parents who leave unsecured, loaded guns around young children should be prosecuted when that carelessness results in children’s injuries and deaths.

His headlines make his position quite clear; see, for instance, his piece "Another Day, Another ‘Accidental’ Child Shooting Death," or "A 4-Year-Old Boy Killed His 2-Year-Old Brother and the Father Was Convicted of Manslaughter. Good." These tragedies “can be reduced by stronger, more consistent child access prevention laws; by gun-safety education campaigns; by incentivizing gun owners to purchase gun safes and install trigger locks,” he writes. “It’s a point I’ve made before, and it’s one that I’ll continue to make as long as children continue to die.”

In his most recent piece, Peters writes about yet another child who found a parent’s gun at home and accidentally shot herself and died. (In this case, the victim in question was a two-year-old toddler, and the gun in question was a loaded handgun that had been not-so-effectively “hidden” under the family’s couch.) Following her death, the girl’s father was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge that Peters applauds.

“The state can encourage compliance with gun safety protocols by charging those people whose failure to follow them results in injury or death,” Peters writes. “That’s one reason why I support prosecuting gun-owning parents whose children die or are injured in unintentional shootings: to send a message to other gun-owning parents, and hopefully encourage them to take gun safety more seriously.”

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