by Amy Kerr Hardin
It’s no accident…
This is not a story about “accidental” shootings involving children — because… they are not accidents. When a child uses a firearm and unintentionally harms another person, there’s frequently a guilty party: an irresponsible adult gun owner. And, the numbers indicate that Michigan is teeming with this disreputable breed.
To date this year, Michigan is tied for third place with Texas for the number of incidents where a minor discharged a weapon resulting in the injury or death of either themselves or another individual, often a playmate or sibling. The ignoble first-place position went to neighboring Ohio, where a dozen such occurrences have taken the lives of five, injuring seven. Florida checks-in at number two, with a total of ten reports. Thankfully only one of them resulted in a tragically preventable death.
However, Michigan wasn’t so fortunate with four out of nine not surviving the trauma. (Now, it’s five out of ten for Michigan, no longer tied with the Lone Star State for third — resulting in it being second worst in the nation).
Among the top four offending states, fully half of the oft-termed “accidental” gun incidents led to an unintentional loss of a life, and all too frequently, that of an innocent child.
Every Town for Gun Safety maintains a database on gun-related incidents involving child shooters where someone was unintentionally wounded or killed. Nationally, as of this writing, 146 (now 147) children have discharged a firearm with tragic results in just the first seven months of 2015. The organization estimates that two million American children live in homes where firearms are inadequately secured.
In its 2014 report, Innocents Lost, the national statistics are beyond alarming:
- From December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings — almost two a week, 61 percent higher than federal data reflect. And even this larger number reflects just a fraction of the total number of children injured or killed with guns in the U.S. each year, regardless of the intent.
- About two-thirds of these unexpected deaths — 65 percent — took place in a home or vehicle that belonged to the victim’s family, Most often with guns that were legally owned but not secured. Another 19 percent took place in the home of a relative or friend of the victim.
- More than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them. Of the child shooting deaths in which there was sufficient information available to make the determination, 70 percent (62 of 89 cases) could have been prevented if the firearm had been stored locked and unloaded.
These statistics bring to mind the heart-breaking story of the young mother, Veronica Rutledge, who was shot point-blank by her 2-year-old son while shopping with gift cards in an Idaho Wal-Mart the day after Christmas last year. Rutledge’s family, along with gun rights activists, rushed to defend her integrity, insisting she was an exemplary parent and very responsible gun owner, having safely secured her concealed weapon in a zippered compartment in a specially designed purse. In the wake of her death, supporters frequently cited the fact that she was a respected chemist at the Idaho National Laboratory — a misguided effort to demonstrate her level of intelligence as proof of her innocence. Her father-in-law turned to the media, angry about her character being brought into question:
“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case. I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”
While her story is wrenching, it stands as a prime example of the kind of gross negligence that repeats itself on a daily basis across the country. Had her son instead turned the gun on one of his cousins shopping with them that day, or on himself, she would have been held criminally liable. In the end, she was both the victim and the perpetrator. Her poor judgement leaving her son to grow up to eventually learn the horrific facts surrounding his mother’s death.
The NRA has its say:
Conflating the epidemic with Second Amendment issues only serves to further the notion that these preventable tragedies are mere “accidents.” Gun rights advocates should be ahead of the curve on responsible handling and storage of firearms. Yet we see, time and again, following news reports of another child killing someone, activists focusing their energy on defending their gun rights — fueled by a steady flow of National Rifle Association talking points.
The NRA’s answer to the problem would be considered comically naive, if it weren’t so miserably off the mark. For years now, they have been promoting a public education-based firearms safety class, titled Eddie Eagle, accompanied by a video of such low production quality it calls into question the multi-million dollar organization’s commitment to promoting gun safety among our most vulnerable.
See the latest video HERE, with a segment indirectly referencing the Rutledge family tragedy, and dialogue saying: “sometimes your mom or dad or another adult may have a gun…”
The program has been around for a couple of decades, and has yet to prove to be effective in any way. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, cited a 2004 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics which found that, although children could memorize the video, they did not put to use the skills in real life tests.
Helmke went on to say the following about Eddie Eagle:
“Another study published in the late 1990s by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) noted that Eddie Eagle was like ‘Joe Camel with feathers,’ pointing out that: ‘The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth… The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.'”
Michigan lawmakers have fairly recently attempted to instate the Eddie Eagle program in its public schools — mostly though as a panacea in lieu of taking any substantive action on gun safety for kids. And while we wait, the news reports pileup. Just last week, a 4-year-old Detroit boy shot himself in the abdomen while playing with a loaded weapon left atop a refrigerator. Thankfully, he is expected to live.
It was no “accident” though.
UPDATE: A 9-year old Saginaw boy was shot by a playmate last Friday with a loaded gun they found in a field. The weapon may have been discarded after it was used in a recent crime. He is recovering, but may have a long-term injury to a limb. Investigation ongoing.