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Toddlers have shot at least 50 people this year

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the third presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at UNLV in Las Vegas on Oct. 19. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

During Wednesday night's presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Hillary Clinton if she was upset over the Supreme Court's 2008 decision D.C. v. Heller, which overturned the District's long-standing ban on the ownership of handguns for personal use.

“Well, I was upset,” she replied, “because, unfortunately, dozens of toddlers injure themselves, even kill people with guns, because, unfortunately, not everyone who has loaded guns in their homes takes appropriate precautions.”

Clinton was referring here to a less-discussed aspect of the decision that also overturned a requirement that firearms like shotguns and rifles be unloaded and disassembled or trigger-locked while stored at home.

Gun safety proponents and many researchers say such safe storage laws prevent accidental shootings that kill hundreds of Americans each year. As a Washington Post analysis first noted a year ago, a substantial percentage of accidental shootings are committed by toddlers — children as young as 1 year old — who get their hands on a gun and accidentally shoot themselves or someone else.

In 2015, there were 58 shootings committed by toddlers, or more than one every week. The drumbeat of tragic shootings involving children barely able to walk has continued unabated this year.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 51 shootings involving toddlers in the United States. By this date last year, there had been 47 toddler-involved shootings.

In the majority of this year's cases, the child picked up a gun and shot himself or herself. (The overwhelming majority of toddler shooters are male.) In 16 of the 39 self-shooting incidents, the child's injuries proved fatal.

Toddlers shot 12 other people, too. Just last week, in Muskegon County, Mich., a 2-year-old boy pulled a loaded rifle out of a closet and fired several rounds, one of which struck his 4-month-old sister in the back. She survived.

So did the 24-year-old woman who was shot earlier this week in Pima County, Ariz., as she attempted to take a handgun away from her 2-year-old child.

In the week running up to the debate there were at least four shootings involving toddlers in the United States. On the same day the Michigan boy shot his sister, a three-year-old boy Waukegan, Illinois found his father's loaded pistol and fatally shot himself in the head with it.

A few days later, a two-year-old boy in Vallejo, California was critically injured after shooting himself in the chest. In a bizarre turn of events, the boy's father later attempted to "assassinate" two police officers at a coffee shop later in the day. Family members speculate the man's anguish over his son's shooting may have caused him to desire to hurt himself or others.

There are also cases involving multiple small children in which it is unclear who pulled the trigger. In McDonough, Ga., earlier this month, an 18-month-old boy and his 3-year-old brother were playing in a room with several family members present. One of the adults set a loaded .45-caliber handgun down where the kids could reach it.

Shortly thereafter a shot rang out, killing the 18-month-old boy. Investigators are still trying to determine whether the boy or his 3-year-old brother pulled the trigger.

Shootings involving toddlers seem to be more prevalent in some states than in others, and it doesn't appear to simply be a function of population. New York, for instance, has only seen one toddler-involved shooting since 2015, despite being the nation's third-most populous state.

Georgia, on the other hand, has seen 10 toddler shootings since 2015. Texas leads the nation with 11. Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee all rank highly with seven shootings each.

By contrast there hasn't been a single toddler shooting in New England since 2o15.

In bringing up toddlers at the debate, Clinton may have been channeling the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which recently launched a PSA focused on toddler shootings.

“Americans are shot by toddlers at least once a week.We need to lock them up. Not the guns — that’s just un-American,” the Brady Campaign says in the satirical video. “Round them up. Deport them. Get them out of our country. And keep them away from guns.”

So far this year, at least 538 children under the age of 12 have been killed or injured by gunfire, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tallies data on shootings.

The Brady Campaign, a grassroots organization fighting to prevent gun violence, released this ad on Oct. 16. (Video: The Brady Campaign)