Jeremiah Banks, a 3-year-old boy in Illinois, accidentally shot himself and died earlier this month. Children are unintentionally shot at a pace that suggests incidents like Jeremiah's are happening every other day. And sadly, the number of very young children getting their hands on guns may be higher than we all think. So this begs the question — how many toddlers die from guns every year?
An Injury Epidemiology study, "Children and Unintentional Firearm Death," found that 110 children under the age of 14 die each year from being accidentally shot, Vox reported. The study used data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, and almost always involved a child finding their parent's gun and accidentally firing it, killing themselves, or a nearby friend or a relative.
How many of these deaths are toddlers? So far this year, 39 toddlers have shot themselves, The Washington Post reported. And 16 of those toddlers have died. According to The International Business Times, 1.7 million children live in households that have guns that aren't locked away or are stored loaded. This unfortunately means that American children are 16 times more likely to die from an unintentional shooting.
Officials investigating the recent case of Jeremiah Banks said that these tragedies serve as a warning to parents. "For this tragic situation to happen, it just hurts, but this brings awareness to the fact that if you have a weapon, it needs to be locked and stored in a secure environment," Sam Cunningham, Alderman of Waukegan's 1st Ward, told Chicago Tribune.
USA Today, in conjunction with The Associated Press, did its own research on the subject matter. They analyzed news reports of accidental shootings involving kids for six months in 2014. They found that 3-year-olds are the most common shooters and victims among children affected by unintentional shootings. Almost 90 three-year-old children were killed or injured in accidental shootings.
Most of these toddlers shot themselves, and Sheriff David McKnight, who has investigated toddlers dying from accidental gunshots before in Marion County, Texas, explained why. “That 3- to 5-year-old age group, they are going to be looking at the gun when they shoot it. They point the gun barrel at themselves and put their thumbs on the trigger,” he told USA Today.
What's scary is that we may not even know how many children have accidentally been killed by guns. That's because half of the incidents are not reported as accidents, a New York Times investigation of accidental shootings revealed.
“The extent of the problem is a little bit shocking. The extent of the undercount is a little bit shocking,” Lindsay Nichols, an attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told USA Today. “A lot of it provides further evidence that this is such a horrible pattern that continues and that more action is needed.”
More than 20 states have no laws to prevent children from being able to access guns — including laws requiring safe storage. However, several of the incidents have happened in states that have child protection laws. But the fact that nearly all of these incidents occurred because children managed to get to their parent's firearm may make some parents wonder whether keeping a gun in the home is truly keeping their family safer.