You've probably heard the gun lobby successfully oppose safe-storage laws meant to keep firearms away from young children with two talking points:
|1) too few children die from negligent-discharge accidents each year to justify infringing the Second Amendment rights of Responsible Gun Owners this way, and
|2) most of the children that do die from the negligent discharge of firearms die when criminals are the ones negligently discharging firearms.
And now, after Michael Luo and Mike McIntyre at The New York Times got into the drawer where the statistics were kept and started playing with the data, well, #1 is being loaded onto the ambulance and #2 is lying face down in a pool of blood at the scene.
Join me below the fold.
Luo and McIntyre recount many fatal shooting incidents from past years that sound sadly similar to the ones we read of every week (here's the latest installment). In Georgia, an Army sergeant's 2-year-old shoots himself in the head with Daddy's .45, kept under a pillow in a guest bedroom whose door lock didn't catch. A Minnesota 11-year-old decides to take out his 20-gauge before his first gun-safety class, thinks better of it, but fumbles with it as he puts it back and kills his sister in the process. And in a Texas case that stunned even someone who's read all too many of these accounts, a 2-year-old sharing a crib with his 9-month-old brother manages to get a gun out of a nearby dresser drawer, and ... just go read the whole thing.
The paperwork from that last one is one of the Times' exhibits as to how accidental gun deaths of children are under-counted. Apparently, coroners and medical examiners across the country don't always classify these deaths as "accidents" (they're actually the result of negligence, of course, but that's for another diary). Some jurisdictions call it "homicide", which, in the broadest sense, is a death caused by another whether intentionally or not. Sometimes a death will be considered a homicide even if self-inflicted, as in the case of an Ohio boy whose father momentarily left the gun he was going to go out and shoot with later underneath the sofa cushions he was sitting on while he went out to set up an inflatable swimming pool (The father was later convicted of negligent homicide and endangering a child. Ohio is one of less than 20 states where the law mandates that a firearm be secured properly in the presence of children).
Even within the same jurisdiction, there is no consistency. Bexar County, Texas, found that the death of the 9-month-old above was a homicide; yet a 2-year-old inadvertently shot dead by his older brother in the same county a year later was ruled to have died accidentally.
This confusion inevitably distorts what the National Center for Health Statistics reports. And then the federal government creates another problem when trying to incorporate data on accidents. I'll let McIntire and Luo sum it up:
Another important aspect of firearm accidents is that a vast majority of victims do not die. Tracking these injuries nationally, however, is arguably just as problematic as tallying fatalities, according to public health researchers. In fact, national figures often cited from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site are an estimate, projected from a sampling taken from hospital emergency departments. Nevertheless, in 2011, the most recent year with available data, the agency estimated that there were 847 unintentional nonfatal firearm injuries among children 14 and under.Based on the 259 accidental shooting deaths of children under 15 in five states the Times reporters studied, some as far back as 1999, they argue that the real rate of such deaths is in fact twice as high due to these inadequacies in compiling the statistics; the five states are MN, GA, NC, OH, CA. In four of those five states, it is demonstrably higher.
More concrete are actual counts of emergency department visits, which are available in a small number of states. In North Carolina, for instance, there were more than 120 such visits for nonfatal gun accidents among children 17 and under in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available.
Further number-crunching on the ages of the victims, type of gun, and location of shooting yielded some predictable results. Children are most often killed this way at home, with handguns (especially when younger, as children closer to their teens often have been given long guns by their parents). But it also cast doubt on another gun-lobby claim:
In opposing safe-storage laws, some gun rights advocates have argued that a majority of accidental shootings of children are committed by adults with criminal backgrounds. The Times’s review found that was not the case — children were most often the shooters — and that the families involved came from all walks of life.In one case from Illinois the article cites a convicted felon left his illegally-possessed .38 in another room of his ex-girlfriend's house long enough for a 4-year-old to kill his 2-year-old cousin with it. He got another decade in the big house as a result. But it was still the child who did the shooting.
“Wise would have been a felon in possession even had he possessed the gun in a more responsible way — say, if he had kept it unloaded in a locked cabinet, or if he had kept it unloaded with a trigger lock,” an appellate judge wrote in rejecting his bid for leniency. “More than likely, though, responsible possession would not have endangered the lives of children.”
Even the pro-gun rights 7th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged the tragic failure of Mr. Wise to properly secure his gun, "It is an event almost too painful to recount...."
UNITED STATES v. WISE, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 08–2794Don't all states have laws against child endangerment?
It is an event almost too painful to recount: a four-year-old discharged a gun he found lying around the house, killing his two-year-old cousin. The inaptly named Anthony Wise is the person who left the loaded gun on a window ledge behind a computer. As it turns out, Wise was even extra unwise because he was a convicted felon who could not legally possess a gun. As a result of all this, Wise was charged and convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). His sentence was enhanced because the judge found that he had also violated an Illinois statute prohibiting child endangerment. Wise was sentenced above the guideline range to a term of 120 months in prison. He contends the enhancement was improper and that the sentence is unreasonable.
Until the week before the incident, Wise was living with Kimberly Terrell, the mother of the slain child—we will refer to the child as Sandy—in her apartment in Venice, Illinois. Although Wise was not Sandy's biological father, he considered himself to be her father and his name was on her birth certificate. Two days before the day in question, Wise was in the apartment. While there, he placed a loaded gun on a window ledge, a spot where it should have been quite obvious that kids could find it. He later acknowledged, because children were often present, it was not a good place to leave a loaded gun.
On the evening of the incident, Wise and a friend, Anthony Borney, were at Kimberly's apartment. Also in the apartment in the living room were Kimberly's four-year-old nephew, who we will call Danny, and another two-year-old little girl. At some point, Wise and Kimberly went into a bedroom and began to argue, leaving the children in the living room with Borney. Later, Borney left the room. Less than two minutes after he left, a gunshot rang out. In that short time, Danny had picked up the gun, and it discharged in his hands. Borney, Wise, and Kimberly rushed to the living room to find Sandy lying on the floor. She had been shot in the head. Wise picked up the gun and ran from the apartment. He threw it away near a railroad track, where the Illinois State Police subsequently found it after Wise told them where it was. Sandy, sadly, died the following day at a hospital in St. Louis.[emphasis added]
...Continue reading UNITED STATES v. WISE
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