KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Certainly, for one Mission, Kan., family, New Year’s Eve was a holiday hard to forget.
The father, intending to clean his 9 mm Glock, left it unattended. And shortly the flashing lights of police cars and an ambulance were outside his apartment.
Still, his 3-year-old boy was not the final, fatal punctuation on 2012’s too-long list of children who died from accidental gunfire. The bullet, however, did tear into his arm and abdomen.
Since that day, at least 25 other children across the country have been buried because of their curiosity, the bad luck of being in the wrong place when dad began fiddling with his firearm or a head-shaking combination of other tragic circumstances.
The NRA calculates the odds of a child dying in a firearm mishap have fallen to an all-time low, more than a million to one against. But the shock and grief for the parents whose carelessness may play a part in a son or daughter’s death are beyond calculation. These cases, although fewer than homicides of children, take their own enormous toll.
A 10-year-old North Carolina boy was watching television on March 24 while his father cleaned his shotgun behind him. As it was being wiped down, it went off, destroying his son’s head. A week earlier, a migrating iron worker had his family, including two toddler daughters and little baby boy in a Nashville motel room, when he began handling his semi-automatic pistol. The baby ended up being hit in the chest.
The “accident” status in the case of a 12-year-old girl’s death in Bazine, Kan., may still be up the air. In February, Courie Cox reportedly was shot unintentionally by an unspecified family member in their home. The case is still open, said the KBI last week, and no details have been released.
Nearly a dozen older kids died this year in other kinds of accidents: one hunting rabbits with a friend, one showing off a Christmas present to a cousin, too many goofing around with a parent’s pistol that is wrongly assumed to be unloaded. Last month, an Orange County, Fla., teen shot his 12-year-old brother, whom he believed was an intruder.
A review by The Kansas City Star of the 2013 events show that nine children — none older than first grade; six black, three white — died from the discovery of a poorly stored handgun. One pistol was in a shoebox under a mother’s bed.
“So many small children are dying, and we’ve just allowed it to go on for so long,” said Lindsay Nichols, attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “There is no acceptable rate of accidental deaths. So many of these could be prevented.”
One such fatality occurred in Kansas City. Trinity Ross, 4, was shot in the forehead by a young sibling on Jan. 22. The children had found a revolver left under a jacket in a chair in the south Monroe Avenue home.
While the close calls or woundings do not garner the same attention as the obituaries, the review of media reports indicates at least 10 other children under 6 years of age managed to wound themselves, two in the head. In January, a Richmond, Va., man was cut down by a 4-year-old who picked up a pistol from a table.
The National Rifle Association has responded with the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® Program for 25 million children from pre-K through the third grades, according to Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at a hearing this year.
Missouri state Sen. Dan Brown, a Republican, filed legislation to ensure every first-grader attending public school in Missouri will receive the NRA gun safety lessons — which includes an animated cartoon — or some similar program. The bill passed the Senate 32 to 2.
“Firearm accident deaths are at all-time annual low, nationally and among children,” the NRA said in a website statement. “We believe that the most effective gun safety device is education, and NRA does more about it than anybody. We’ve invested millions upon millions of dollars in the Eddie Eagle program, and we thank the thousands of volunteers who teach it to children.”
The NRA notes that gun ownership is at an all-time high, upwards of 300 million, in the United States, with about 10 million more guns sold every year. The accident death rate, meanwhile, has fallen to an all-time low, 0.2 per 100,000 population.
New polls that indicate only a third of all American households own a gun today would seem to warp those odds somewhat for those children living in those homes where the number of guns apparently is going up.
Kevin Jamison, a Gladstone attorney and an officer of the Western Missouri Shooter Alliance, doesn’t think so.
“If they have one gun in the house or 10 guns in the house, that’s not going to make a great deal of difference,” he said.
Child psychologists, elementary schoolteachers and law enforcement officers were enlisted to create what the NRA says is a simple, effective plan for children around a firearm in an unsupervised situation: “If you see a gun: STOP! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.”
A study in 2004, however, questioned the program’s effectiveness, especially on children around kindergarten age. And some parents object to an NRA gun program being imposed on their children.
Such training probably would not have saved one 3-year-old Greenville, S.C., boy tempted by a pink semi-automatic pistol that resembled a toy. And in two such death cases this year, the father was a current or retired police officer, supposedly better trained in safe firearm storage.
The American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that the absence of guns from homes and communities would be the most effective measure to prevent many of those tragedies.