THE TOLL of gun violence on American children is laid out in the grim numbers of a new government study. Nearly 1,300 children are killed and nearly 6,000 injured every year. That is more than three children killed a day and more than 15 children a day treated for gunshot wounds.
The heartbreaking tragedy embodied in those numbers can be seen through the prism of three days that preceded the study’s release. A 4-year-old girl in South Carolina was accidentally shot to death Friday by her 6-year-old sibling. Two girls were wounded Friday in a shooting during a picnic at a Chicago elementary school. An 8-year-old boy in Mississippi was caught in gunfire and shot in the head Saturday while he slept in the back seat of his mother’s car. An 11-year-old Florida boy was taken to the hospital Saturday in grave condition after accidentally shooting himself in the eye. A 4-year-old Pennsylvania boy fatally shot himself Sunday after getting hold of a gun.
So commonplace are bloody weekends such as this in the United States that, according to the report published Monday in Pediatrics by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related deaths are the third-leading cause of death overall among children ages 1 to 17 years. The study confirms previously released information but is the most comprehensive, with an examination of national databases that track death certificates, emergency-room visits and coroner and medical-examiner records. More than half of gun deaths were homicides, with many connected to domestic violence. Boys, particularly African Americans, were the most vulnerable to risk of gun homicide, and suicide, which accounted for more than a third of gun-related deaths, sharply increased from 2007 to 2014.
The report frames the impact of gun violence on children as a serious public-health problem that demands attention and scientifically sound solutions. It calls for programs to help youths manage their emotions and their problems and cites the usefulness of laws that prohibit people who are subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms.
It also underscores the importance of safely storing guns to prevent both unintentional and intentional shootings. The risk of suicide increases in homes where guns are kept unlocked and loaded, and a previous analysis of school shootings by Everytown for Gun Safety showed that more than half the perpetrators obtained guns from home. There are no laws at the federal level making it a crime to leave a firearm accessible to a child, and, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, just 14 states have laws that make adults criminally liable for negligently storing firearms when a child gains access. Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires all firearms be safely stored in a locked container or with a trigger lock when the owner is not carrying the gun.
We can, of course, thank the National Rifle Association and the lawmakers who cower before it for this lunacy. Opposed to any kind of restrictions, the gun lobby has fought storage standards as an invasion of privacy for gun owners. It offers as a substitute an educational gun safety program for children that uses Eddie Eagle and other cartoon characters to instruct kids who discover a gun to “stop, don’t touch, run away, tell a grown-up.” It’s good advice, but as every parent knows, children don’t always do as they are told.
Children do look to adults for protection. That, at a minimum, should include requiring the safe storage of guns.
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