Accidental shooting deaths of children may be far more common than we realize. An investigation by the New York Times found these deaths happen about twice as often as statistics indicate, because authorities often don't record them as "accidents." The Times looked at 259 accidental firearm deaths of kids under 15 in eight states, finding about half were classified as something else—typically a homicide. In one case, a 3-year-old found his dad's gun under the couch, and accidentally shot himself in the face. "Leaving a loaded weapon in an area where the child can easily access it is neglect in our mind," says the medical examiner who worked on the case. "Therefore parents have failed to keep a child safe, and therefore it’s a homicide."
So why does it matter which "manner of death" box a coroner ticks? Because these stats are often used by pro-gun groups like the NRA to fight "safe storage" laws, or oppose government efforts to promote the development of "smart gun" technology. Other findings from the Times' investigation:
- In almost all cases, the shooter was male, and 80% of the victims were male. Though the boys had often been lectured on safety and not touching the gun, the "magnetic attraction of firearms" often won out.
- Some 60% of the deaths involved handguns, but for kids under 6, it was 85%.
- The NRA claims that adult criminals are more likely to be responsible for fatally shooting kids, but the investigation found accidental child shootings were actually more likely to be self-inflicted or perpetrated by another kid.
- Younger kids were more likely to shoot themselves. Half of the self-inflicted shootings were kids under 5, and the most common age was 3.
- Half of the deaths took place in the kid's home, and a third occurred at a friend's or relative's house.
- Even with the unrecorded accidental shootings counted, then number was still lower than intentional gun deaths of children—like gang shootings or murder-suicides.
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