According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group for gun violence prevention, unintentional shootings by kids occur nearly every day. The number of deaths have been steadily increasing, especially during the pandemic. Everytown reports that most shooters and victims are teenagers between the ages of 14 to 17-years-old.
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Dr. Zakia Gates is a professor of Teacher Education at Cabrini University.
As of November 2022, there have been 275 total unintentional shootings by children this year, which has resulted in 125 deaths and 161 injuries across the U.S.
“We also know from our research that the number of children living in households with firearms has increased from 7 million in 2015, up to 30 million in 2021,” Shani Nuckols, a Moms Demand Action representative, said. Moms Demand Action lobbies elected officials in Washington, DC, and spreads awareness about gun safety and violence prevention to masses of Americans.
Several factors contribute to the frequency of unintentional shootings. The main ones are failing to lock or store weapons appropriately, not disarming the weapon properly, and not activating the safety trigger. These steps, if followed, can lessen the frequency of unintentional shootings.
Just one unintentional discharge can cause a serious amount of trauma, according to CJ Nicholson, a survivor of an accidental shooting. That’s trauma in the moment and afterwards. Nicholson tells the story of when he encountered a law enforcement officer with a gun after his accident.
“One of the cops was unloading or taking his gun out of the car, a rifle, and I didn't see him at first,” Nicholson said. “So when I saw the gun, I had, like, a panic attack. I've had that happen a couple times before.”
In 2022, the states with the most accidental shootings were the states with the least strict gun laws. For example Texas leads the way with 20 unintentional shootings, followed by Florida with 19, then Georgia with 18, and Ohio with 17. These states do not have laws in place that require guns to be stored in a safe or a lock box.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine all have yet to see an unintentional shooting so far this year, and they all have laws and requirements for safe storage. Gun ownership per capita is lower in these states than in the states that see the most unintentional shootings per capita.
Many of the accidental shootings that have occurred could have been prevented through proper education of firearms, according to Sgt. Mike, a law enforcement officer who requested that his last name be withheld. “Starting with not educating them about the fact that it's serious, correlating it with something dangerous,” he said. Sgt. Mike stressed that it is the role of the gun owner if they have children to take proper care and discharge their weapons responsibly to prevent these tragic incidents from happening.
Accidental shooting injuries range from minor to lethal. There are instances where a person will drop the gun and it will discharge or a bullet will be lodged in the gun, or even the safety trigger isn’t on and the slightest contact toward the gun will trigger a discharge.
Patty Willis, a firearm instructor, believes every firearm owner should know the anatomy of their firearms because they’re responsible and accountable for whatever discharge happens.
According to Willis, gun owners should store their firearm “where it can be secured against prohibited people getting to it, whether it's a child or somebody that just shouldn't have access to guns. There are plenty of cases of mentally unstable people obtaining firearms by killing people and taking their guns and then going and killing lots of other people.”
Moms Demand Action, founded in 2013 in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting, has put together a campaign to combat gun violence as a whole. Moms Demand Action is an affiliate of the organization BeSmart, which keeps a database showing the effects gun violence has on adolescents.
The BeSmart database shows that unintentional shootings are one of the most common deaths among adolescents. There are many perspectives on gun violence as a whole, but when it comes to unintentional shootings, children are the most vulnerable.
“What distinguishes this [BeSmart] educational program from some of the other ones out there is it puts the responsibility on the parents,” Nuckols said. “It's not impactful or effective to tell kids to stay away from guns, that doesn't work. They don't have them, they're curious. Like, even the cognitive wherewithal to realize the dangers of a firearm.”
Lobbying and lawmaking have proven to be the most effective way to advocate for a topic as important as gun violence. Moms Demand Action has seen progress being made. “In this previous midterm, we had 125 Moms Demand Action volunteers elected into office at all levels of government,” Nuckols said.
“We had 5,000 gun sense candidates. So people who publicly supported a platform of gun violence prevention as part of their campaign platform. I don't have the number yet on how many of those got elected. But in the past, it's been substantial. So I think when you're talking about success, we're seeing that with Moms Demand Action,” she said.
There is still progress that this organization would like to see, like bipartisan reforms made in Congress that lessen unintentional shootings but also gun violence as a whole.
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Unintentional shootings primarily affect children under 18-years-old. Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group focused on gun violence prevention, has an initiative called Be S.M.A.R.T. to help curb unintentional shootings.
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