A sad and surprisingly popular subset of the plague of American gun violence is accidental shooting deaths of or by children. This almost always occurs because proper gun safety measures are either unknown or ignored, resulting in the tragic deaths of children by careless adults, careless adults by unsupervised children, and even unsupervised children by other unsupervised children.
It is unfair to try to pin blame for these deaths on the children, but it is just as unfair to absolve the adults involved. Gun ownership comes with the responsibility of handling a potentially deadly weapon safely. To write these incidents off merely as “accidents” implies that nothing could have been done to prevent them, when this is most certainly not true.
For example, take this recent AP report on the death of an Army veteran shot and killed by his four-year-old son when they went to visit a friend. The child found an unattended gun, picked it up, and pulled the trigger, killing his father. However, instead of assigning responsibility to the gun owner for allowing the weapon to fall into the hands of a young child, police are calling the death “accidental.”
Legally, the gun owner was not required to take any safety measures regarding the storage of his weapon. And, since no children lived in the home, it may be easy to question why any would be necessary. Tragically, the shooting that occurred provides an answer. Because one can never predict who will enter their home, it makes sense that precautions should be taken to make sure the gun is not used by someone it shouldn’t be.
Something as simple as a storage safe would have prevented this senseless death, as would a gun lock that would have prevented anyone but the gun owner from firing the weapon. But, gun advocates have fought against requiring any of these type of safety measures.
So, although the owner of this gun undoubtedly did not intend for young hands to find his firearm, the fact that he did nothing to prevent it means that he should bear some responsibility for the resulting death. This was negligence, not an accident.
Even more upsetting are stories involving parents who blatantly put guns into the hands of their children. While the argument that training children to use guns teaches them to handle them responsibly makes some sense, it only works if the parents themselves practice what they preach.
For example, consider the case of a five-year-old who shot and killed his two-year-old sister after being given a rifle as a gift, after the rifle was stored “in what [the family] considered to be a safe spot.” This awful event led to a series of troubling statements from family and police.
From the uncle: “It’s just tragic. It’s something that you can’t prepare for.”
But you can prepare for it by storing the gun safely and not leaving the children unattended. Or, even better, don’t give a gun to your five-year-old in the first place.
From a police trooper: “It’s just one of those nightmares, a quick thing that happens when you turn your back.”
Yes, this is a nightmare, but it can be avoided by not turning your back. Any responsible gun owner should know better.
And from the grandmother: “It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess.”
Taking the responsibility for this death out of the hands of the parents and assigning it to God excuses them for their negligence and does nothing to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.
Notice that not one person said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have given him a gun.”
Again, the shooting was ruled an accident. And again, it was anything but.
- No Charges in Fatal Shooting by Boy (abcnews.go.com)
- Children and guns, lethal combination (miamiherald.com)
- Parents of dead 2-year-old: We told kids ‘not to touch’ the unattended gun (syndicatednewsservices.com)