Aside from the age of the children involved, these cases all have one thing in common: They involved guns that belonged to a grandparent or great-grandparent, or they happened in a grandparent's home. The Florida boy, Ethan Walker, was in his grandfather's truck when he shot himself. The Flint boy was at his great-grandparents' house when he got his hands on a gun. So was the boy in Alabama.
In another recent case, a 3-year old was shot and killed while sleeping in his grandmother's bed after a gun she kept under her pillow discharged. Last month in Texas, a 4-year-old boy staying over at his grandparents' house found a gun and shot himself in the head. In Missouri, a 5-year-old girl shot herself after finding a gun that her grandmother tried to hide by sliding under a couch.
All told, in the first five weeks of this year at least six children age 5 or under have shot themselves or someone else either in a grandparent's home, or after finding a gun that belonged to a grandparent.
Children are generally safer under the care of a grandparent. In 2008, for instance, a Johns Hopkins study found that children are typically less likely to injure themselves while in the care of a grandparent than while under supervision of day-care workers, other relatives or even nonworking mothers.
But the shooting cases underscore the importance of keeping guns locked up even if you don't have small children in your own home. Twenty-seven states plus the District have "child access prevention" (CAP) laws on the books that impose penalties on people who negligently leave their guns in places where kids can find them.
CAP laws are less about punishing negligent gun owners after the fact and more about nudging responsible ones to prevent something terrible from happening. Laws help shape societal norms. If six little kids have been able to get hold of grandpa's gun and shoot someone with it this year, it suggests that many folks have a dangerously casual attitude toward leaving loaded guns out in the open.