A 26-YEAR-OLD woman driving on a Milwaukee highway was shot and killed Tuesday by her 2-year-old son, who was sitting in the back seat and got hold of a gun. The circumstances of her death are tragic but sadly not that unusual. On that same day, a 3-year-old boy in a suburb of Atlanta fatally shot himself after finding his father’s pistol in a backpack. The previous week saw two other toddlers — a 3-year-old in Louisiana and a 2-year-old in Indiana — fatally shoot themselves.
The deaths in all likelihood will be catalogued as accidents. But these horrible incidents are not, as the dictionary defines “accident,” unexpected happenings. They are events that are not only predictable but also entirely preventable.
So far this year, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety , at least 77 people under age 18 have unintentionally shot either themselves or another person. There have been 36 deaths. Among the victims were Patrice Price, the mother of three who died on the side of a Wisconsin highway and was remembered for her smile and generosity; 3-year-old Holston Cole, whom family friends described as full of life before finding his father’s gun in their Georgia home; and Kiyan Shelton, a 2-year-old in Indianapolis who climbed onto a kitchen counter and got his mother’s handgun from her purse. The grief — and in some cases guilt — of their families is unimaginable. So, too, will be the lifelong emotional damage to children who, through no fault of their own, become unwitting killers.
It has long been known that guns and children make for a deadly combination, and there are obvious steps that can be taken. But thanks to the national gun lobby, many states (including Wisconsin, Georgia and Indiana, the scenes of three of the recent shootings) haven’t adopted stronger laws to prevent children from accessing unsecured guns. Thanks to the gun lobby, technology that could make guns safer and more secure, such as biometric gun safes or grips, is not being developed. Even basic research that would improve public-health surveillance of unintentional child gun deaths and could be used to develop more effective educational campaigns for gun safety isn’t being conducted, because Congress is cowed by the gun lobby.
Perhaps the most pernicious example of the disregard for children’s safety are efforts to promote laws that would gag pediatricians and other doctors from asking questions about gun ownership. Such laws allow a doctor to ask parents if they use childproof medicine containers and whether they lock up cleaning supplies but not if they keep guns secure. Children grab guns because they don’t know any better. The adults who prevent actions that might keep guns out of the hands of children don’t have that excuse.