Kids get their hands on guns dangerously often, but do toddlers actually shoot more people than terrorists in the United States? The answer appears to be yes, according to a number of sources, including fact-checking site Snopes.com. At the time of the data's publication, 21 people were killed by toddlers in 2015 (sometimes the toddlers themselves), while only 19 Americans lost their lives to "potential or suspected Islamic terrorists." Though final counts may vary based on definitions of the terms "terrorist" and "toddler" (left undefined in the Snopes.com report), the statistics still suggest that children in America may have an unsettling level of access to firearms.
On Sunday, The Washington Post published its count of people shot by toddlers this year in the United States: 23. Seven of those shootings happened within the last two weeks of April. Often, toddlers accidentally suffer self-inflicted gunshot wounds; those were responsible for nine fatalities in 2016 so far. Less often, toddlers shoot others. Unfortunately, the unintentional gun violence is surprisingly common: in 2015, The Washington Post found that about one shooting per week involved a toddler.
So far in 2016, there have been 82 child shootings in the United States, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Everytown argues that most of these shootings were preventable. When a child gets a gun, it's often because the firearm wasn't stored securely in their home. Everytown advocates that states adopt laws to punish adults who don't store guns safely, but there are steps parents can take now to keep their kids out of danger.
If a parent owns a gun, it's essential to create as many barriers to access as possible — tucking a firearm away on a high shelf or stashing it in a hidden drawer isn't enough. The Office of the Attorney General for the State of California recommends storing a gun in a lock box or safe and adding a trigger or cable lock to make firing the weapon impossible. Ensure the firearm isn't loaded before storing, and keep the ammunition in a separate place. Project ChildSafe distributes Safety Kits with instructions and gun locks across the country.
Whether parents keep weapons at home or not, it's still important to talk with kids about firearm safety. In their video, Parents Talking with Their Kids About Gun Safety, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Project ChildSafe recommend that families converse openly and often about what to do in the presence of a gun. The content of the discussion evolves with age. If a young child sees a gun, they shouldn't touch it; instead, they should leave the area and tell an adult what they saw. Teenagers may be interested in sports involving firearms, but they still need proper training and adult permission and supervision in order to handle a gun. All kids should be told that a gun is not a toy and that they should never point a gun at someone else; the safest bet is always to assume that a firearm is loaded.
It's scary to think that a toddler can pull a trigger and end a life, especially when that life is often their own. But if kids and parents work together, it is possible to prevent this unintentional and heartbreaking violence.