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Wonkblog | Analysis

American toddlers are still shooting people on a weekly basis this year

By Christopher Ingraham

September 29, 2017 at 11:16 AM

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

On Wednesday two 3-year-old boys were shot by another toddler who found and inadvertently fired a gun at the home of their babysitter in Dearborn, Mich., according to the Detroit Free Press. The boys, one of whom was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder, are in stable condition at a hospital.

The Dearborn boys are at least the 42nd and 43rd people to get shot by a child under the age of 4 this year, according to a database of accidental child-involved shootings maintained by Everytown, a gun violence prevention group. On average, someone gets shot by an American toddler a little more frequently than once a week, similar to previous years.

These figures, which are compiled from media and police reports, are likely an undercount. If a child receives a relatively mild gunshot injury, such as a grazing, parents may try to keep the incident quiet and not seek medical care. It's also possible that an unknown number of small children find guns and fire them without hitting anyone, which would not necessarily result in a medical or police report.

Related: [4-year-old boy critically wounded after shooting himself]

In many of these shooting cases, a toddler finds a gun and accidentally shoots himself with it — 27 out of the 43 toddler shootings involved self-inflicted injuries. Earlier this month in Ohio, for instance, a 3-year-old boy found his father's loaded gun in the kitchen and fatally shot himself in the head with it.

But shootings of other people are common, as well. Last weekend in St. Louis, a 2-year-old found a loaded handgun and accidentally shot and killed his father, who was asleep at the time. The day before, in Pennsylvania, a 3-year-old riding in the back seat of a car found a loaded gun and shot his uncle in the shoulder.

Nearly all toddler shootings involve boys. So far this year there have been just two exceptions. In March, 3-year-old Yasha Ross from Pittsburgh found a loaded gun in the home of a man she was visiting with her mother and fatally shot herself in the chest. Another 3-year-old girl shot herself in the stomach in Georgia in June. She survived.

Related: [A 4-year-old was looking for candy in her grandmother's purse. Instead, she found a gun.]

The youngest toddler involved in a shooting this year was an 18-month-old from Nashville, who police say found a loaded pistol on a bed and shot himself in the face. His injuries were not fatal. So far this year 17 toddler shootings have ended in a fatality, while 26 resulted in a non-life-threatening injury.

Gun violence researchers have found that child protection laws that mandate safe storage of guns at home are associated with reductions in accidental gun deaths among children.

"Storing guns responsibly — locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately — is a critical step that every gun owner can take to protect kids and adults alike from the life-threatening consequences of a curious toddler getting access to a gun," Emily Durbin of Michigan Moms Demand Action, said in a statement Wednesday in response to the Dearborn shooting.

Beyond the immediate toll of death and injury, shootings involving small children have profound and often tragic effects on surviving family members. Earlier this month in South Carolina, for instance, 2-year-old Kyree Myers found a loaded gun at his home and fatally shot himself in the head.

Police arrived to find the boy's father, Keon Myers, despondent and threatening to kill himself. Despite officers' attempts to intervene, Myers then shot himself in the head, as well. Myers and his son were pronounced dead at a hospital.


Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

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