|Perfectly safe, unless you pull the trigger.|
There is no fail-safe way to keep children from accidentally shooting themselves, but a responsible parent and gun owner can practically eliminate the threat. First, educate a child about the dangers of guns and that they are not toys. Second, teach children age-appropriate firearm safety. Third, lock your guns up when you are not actively controlling them. No method alone or combined is foolproof, but something is better than nothing. Assuming that a safety briefing alone or strong words never to touch daddy’s gun isn’t going to keep kids safe.
NSFW language warning: I’m not going to mince words in the rest of this article.
Childhood gun accidents happen because of two main reasons; loaded guns are left accessible to children and parents misjudge their children. If combined into one cause, parents failed to imagine that the worst was possible and that it was their duty to prevent it. Anyone who leaves a loaded gun where a child can get at it is negligent and irresponsible. All firearms should be kept holstered, under the direct and immediate control of an adult, or locked away when kids are in the home.
Even teenagers shouldn’t have access to a firearm unsupervised. As you will see below, even “trained” children can still kill each other with guns. There are too many unknowns to rely on a child’s training or integrity to leave a loaded gun unsecured. As you will see below, some parents did teach their kids about guns and shooting, yet tragedies happen.
No, we are not discussing the one-offs where a teen successfully uses a gun in a legitimate defensive situation. We’re talking about the bad parents here, not the decent ones, so please spare me the links and angry comments about how your child is great, blah blah blah. Make your own decisions, but do so intelligently, not blindly assuming you’re some great expert and it won’t happen to you. Relying on “trust” is a bad plan.
Frankly, most of the children who die or are injured in gun accidents have irresponsible parents that are probably too stupid or negligent to own firearms (or have children). By now, the danger of a loaded gun should be obvious, but sadly, some morons think a gun in a drawer or on the top shelf where a kid can’t see it is safe. I’d venture a guess these people have never been educated about gun safety, lack much formal education, are generally unintelligent, and are more concerned with themselves than their children. We’re talking about the people who are the reasons for warning labels on things.
Casey Mercer of Louisiana left his gun on the sofa after cleaning his guns because he had to go to work. He did text his girlfriend to put the gun away, but while his girlfriend found it more important to put the dog outside rather than keep the gun out of children’s reach, Mercer’s toddler shot herself in the head with the pistol. Congratulations dumbass, you killed your daughter because you left a loaded gun on the couch. On the couch! What the fuck?
The negligence of leaving a loaded handgun on the couch is mind boggling. I question how anyone can be so stupid, lazy, and irresponsible. Unloaded guns left out with the ammunition put away? Missed one because you were in a hurry? Dropped out of your pants and you forgot it somehow? Understandable, if not excusable. But no, he was late for work and didn’t want to risk getting into trouble, so he took a chance and lost.
Think you can set a gun down somewhere and it will be safe? A four-year old was shot with a gun left in a purse. A grandmother’s pistol, kept under a pillow, “went off” in the middle of the night and killed her grandchild. Kids do inconceivable destructive things that take only the imagination of a child to think of. Your common sense and logic not to fiddle with guns does not apply to a kittle kid.
Amy Pittman of North Carolina and her boyfriend kept firearms all over their home. Social workers were called when her boys were seen chasing each other through the neighborhood with guns. During the investigation, unsecured firearms were found around the home. Pittman blamed her boyfriend and that she didn’t know the guns were there, including the shotgun hidden behind a refrigerator. This was the gun that her 12-year-old shot her 9-year-old in the back with. The elder boy assumed that the gun was unloaded after shaking it.
Pittman, a real winner of a human being, was charged while her boyfriend went free. Only the mom had a duty to keep her kids from shooting each other. Apparently, a boyfriend who has his girlfriend’s children in the house has no responsibility. She blamed him because she claimed she had no idea there were guns in the house. Right…surely you didn’t notice the ammo in the sock drawer. Pittman even told a social worker who offered to buy them a gun safe to buzz off. Wonder if the boyfriend visited Amy in jail?
Cause 1: Parental Irresponsibility
In the above examples, the parents could have kept their children safe. Mercer was too lazy to put his guns away or properly manage his time so he could put the guns away without being late. Or maybe if his girlfriend had worried less about having to clean up dog poop/pee she wouldn’t have to worry about cleaning up the gore of that sweet little girl. It’s better to be fired than to kill your child.
Pittman made practically every wrong decision at just about every point in her life. The possibilities are endless. If she was a better mother, perhaps her kids wouldn’t have been so unruly. Maybe if she had made better life decisions, she would have been supervising her kids or not dating a scumbag. She could have bought a safe or taken up the social worker’s offer. At the very least, she should have taught her kids not to play with guns or that you don’t shake a gun to check if it is loaded or not.
The off-body carry folks, especially the pillow grandmother, never imagined that a gun essentially under their control would become a danger. Purse carry around young children is reckless precisely because kids look through and play with everything (remember the dildo gun safety commercial). Off-body carry is dangerous for just this reason, especially given the case of the child who shot and killed a mother in Walmart with her own purse gun. She gets half a pass as attended purse carry seems reasonable; this is why concealed carry instructors had better be damn clear off-body carry is a terrible idea around kids and idiots.
These others were likely poorly educated (about guns is all I’m willing to speculate here) and careless to the n-th degree. While mandating gun safety education and making it a felony for stupid people to own guns would be ideal, it would be as unconstitutional as prohibiting morons from sharing their verbal diarrhea in public or online. Or breeding. As it is, all you can do is try and impress gun safety across the board any way you can.
Brooklyn Mohler of Henderson was shot and killed when her 14-year-old friend tried to show off her dad’s handgun that he left accessible for his daughter’s protection. The 14-year-old was trying to “disarm” the gun somehow when Brooklyn got shot. The gun owner was not charged, apparently after the DA’s office claimed no law had been violated. Someone is lying, because NRS 202.300, though complicated, does prohibit generally leaving loaded guns around.
A child 14 or older may have access to a handgun if, they have written permission from a parent for possession at their residence; however, that section (7) is negated by section (8), which prohibits a minor from handling a loaded firearm within any residence, including his or her own residence, unless, possession of the firearm is necessary for immediate self-defense. Immediate self-defense does not include the theoretical need for self-defense; the exemption is a protection to prevent prosecution of a child who uses a gun solely to defend themselves. The gun owner certainly could be charged, but it appears the decision fell under prosecutorial discretion and no one looked at the statute hard enough to challenge the call or publicly disclaim it.
14-year-old Kenzo Dix died in an incident similar to Brooklyn. A friend who was overconfident with his father’s handgun removed the magazine but didn’t clear the chamber. Instead of blaming the imbecile of a friend and his equally irresponsible father, Dix decided it was the gun’s fault. He championed loaded chamber indicators for California handguns (you know, “loaded when up”). Mr. Dix feels that many firearms are unsafe by design and “the gun industry is a threat to many American families.”
Right. A little tab poking up is going to suddenly make children of all ages realize the chamber is loaded and clear the pistol. Sort of like those warning labels on cigarettes keep kids from smoking. Someone who is so unfamiliar with firearms that they do not know to verify the chamber is empty or keep your finger off the trigger while pulling back the slide is probably not going to understand what the little thing protruding from the slide means (at least until Ruger makes a gun with an audio warning and flashing lights).
Mr. Dix can’t blame the friend (that’s too mean) and getting mad at the dad won’t solve the problem, but he can get mad at the gun industry and blame them. Why place the guilt where it belongs when you can demonize a faceless group of corporations? Like how victims of drunk drivers all blame the car industry…never mind. Instead, Mr. Dix gets to tell his sob story and get legislation passed to add yet more crap to a gun that won’t do a damn to save lives. All because it isn’t about saving lives, it’s about feelings.
Cause 2: Parental Hubris
These two died because of parental hubris; that their kid knew about guns and wasn’t going to play around with them when mom and dad are home. Sadly, this kind of attitude is all too common around gun owners. A lot of parents probably thought that. Hopefully, your kids are the rare ones who are mature and respectful enough not to go playing with guns.
But what if a friend comes over and finds it? Do you truly have a special child who is entirely trustworthy, or are you assuming that your child would never do anything like that? The last thing you want is your weekend getaway interrupted by a call from the police because the teen party broke up because Jimmy Stoner found your bedside gun and blew off his girlfriend head during some sex game in your bed.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but far too often we see clueless parents believing their children are blameless and who continue to deny reality crying “he dindu nuffin!” Don’t believe that other people’s kids go through your stuff when you aren’t around? A promising high school football star died when just that happened. Just because you are middle-class and shoot regularly doesn’t mean that you are magically exempt from instances of teenage dumbassery.
Teens think they know everything and consequently find themselves in deep precisely because of overconfidence. Kenzo and Brooklyn died because they did not have enough maturity or discipline to leave the gun alone and overestimated their firearms proficiency. Because development of the brain is not complete, teens often act on impulse, engage in risky behavior, and act without thinking or considering the consequences of their actions. If they can access the gun, they can’t do anything reckless with it.
Education and heart-to-heart talks can only do so much. Despite modern sex-ed and easily obtainable birth control, teen girls still get pregnant, but it is much easier to put guns in a safe than it is to lock one’s boys and girls in their closets until their hormones stop raging. If you won’t trust them with booze, a computer in their bedroom, or staying out late, why are you trusting them with your guns?
Cause 3: Insufficient Training and Experience
“I’ve trained my kids about gun safety and they would never touch a gun if I wasn’t around. And if they did, then they would know how to safely use it.” Perhaps your kid is that one in a thousand who is trustworthy and had the benefit of years of range trips with you, but hope is not a plan. Not very many gun owners raise their children in a culture of gun safety and as a consequence, mistake limited experience for competence.
Both stories above say that “the gun went” off, as if the gun fired of its own accord. No, the trigger was pulled because of poor trigger discipline, failure to clear the gun, and total disregard for basic firearm safety. Failure to instill trigger discipline is a result of poor training and a lack of experience with firearms. No knowledge that leads to inaction is better than partial knowledge that leads to doing something unsafe. I would bet that the children’s experience with guns was rudimentary and focused little on safety.
Too many young people are exposed to guns the same way porn exposes them to sex; they’re stimulated, but lack command of the fundamentals to avoid getting themselves into trouble. If shooting is regarded as a rare treat, rather than a serious activity like driving practice, a teen is likely not to come away with good habits. Learning to drive isn’t a trip around the block and then driving to the DMV. Mom and Dad being lazy is not the whole reason why you had to drive them around when you were 15. Just like driving takes practice, so does firearm handling proficiency.
A 19 year old high school student (wait…) died on prom night in a Corvette his mother rented for him. Apparently, it is a tradition in that area to rent high-end cars for prom night. I doubt that these kids have access to these kinds of cars or experience driving anything with that kind of power, as this video seems to show from the teen’s and his friends’ reactions. A family friend told me of his nephew’s death here in Las Vegas many years ago in a brand-new Mustang that his mother mistakenly bought him. Despite being begged not to race the car, the teen did just that after high school one day and crashed and died. Neither of the dead boys had any prior experience with muscle cars or any respect for their power.
A teen who knows how to clear a firearm, but does not have the experience and discipline to keep his finger firmly off the trigger can fire the gun when attempting to retain it against the force of the recoil spring as he retracts the slide. Just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Spend some time on a public range or in a beginner’s class and look at all the people the RSO has to yell at to stop flagging others. Few of these shooters have the experience, the interest, or take guns as seriously, as we do and as a result treat guns as more of a lark. This embarrassing habit goes away when safety is eventually beaten into their head.
Had many of these “knowledgeable” teens kept the gun pointed away from themselves or friends, when their finger slipped and hit the trigger the gun would have fired in a safer direction, hurting no one. Sadly, no one instilled them with that rule.
There is no perfect solution for careless parents and gun owners. We can’t make people be smarter. We can’t make them stop and consider if putting a gun on the top shelf is really making it safe. We can’t force parents to critically appraise their own training skills. We can’t force parents to admit their kids aren’t as smart and perfect as they want them to be. We can’t make people care more about their children than themselves. We can’t make everyone as adept as we are.
Defense in depth is the way to go. Teach young kids to stay the hell away from guns. Allow the older ones to learn respect for firearms and to develop good gun habits. Lastly, keep them locked away whenever possible to reduce the chances of a random variable happening to you. Each one of these steps can prevent one specific mechanism of gun accident, but only by securing guns can anything but deliberate action be avoided.
All we can do is teach and warn. As long as dangerous things exist, children will die in accidents that could have been prevented by better parenting. By following these simple suggestions, we can help reduce accidental firearm deaths. Remember, no one is exempt from shit happens.
Don’t Touch, Run Away
An instructor friend of mine says “Do you remember the last time you hear of a kid catching on fire? Of course not. We teach fire safety and ‘stop, drop, and roll’ is ingrained.” Imagine how much safer everyone would be if the danger of guns was taught in schools (in an age-appropriate manner) every year. In a fair number of cases, had the victim simply got up and left when the gunplay started, they would be alive today.
The innocent victims of these tragedies could have prevented their own deaths or injuries by simply removing themselves from danger. One of the firearm safety rules taught to children is to run away from a gun. The NRA says, “This removes the temptation to touch the firearm as well as the danger that another person may negligently cause it to fire.” It’s a rule better suited to little kids, but even teenagers can benefit.
Running away may not be “cool” to a teenager, but getting away from a friend playing with mom’s or dad’s gun is a very good way to not be in the line of fire when Johnny Jackass pulls the trigger. Even Kenzo and Brooklyn might have lived if they noped it out of their friend’s house. The ideal child of a gun owner would have the maturity to not worry about losing face with his friends. Reality is different. Peer pressure and the desire to look cool or not appear frightened causes kids to make poor decisions, even if they know better.
It’s not just at home, either. There is a startling number of stories of guns being found in parks and abandoned houses where children are injured and killed when they start playing with the guns. Run away, tell an adult!
The problem is that firearm safety training for children is rare and depends almost entirely on the parents seeking out or giving that education to their kids. Gun safety is not taught in school. My police station had boxes of unused NRA Eddie Eagle material (but free locks flew out the door, thankfully). It is a shame that the taboo on guns has gone so far that anti-gun leftists have made it impossible to teach children to avoid these dangerous situations. So, parents, the responsibility is yours.
Respect and Fear the Gun
No sure-fire solutions exist to safeguard one’s children at all times, but the best thing a responsible parent and gun owner can do is teach respect for firearms from an early age. I know one couple that taught their son to keep his toy guns holstered and always keep his finger off the trigger. When he becomes a teen, he will likely have both the respect and discipline to avoid gun accidents, but such training is rare. This is behavior that must be reinforced. It is not something learned in an afternoon on the gun range.
If you understand the dangers and consequences of firearms, you are much less likely to kill or injure yourself or someone else. There is a reason why reputable firearm instructors don’t put guns, unloaded or otherwise, to the heads of their trainees or anyone else. Yet a teenage woman killed her boyfriend after shooting a gun at him for a YouTube video, assuming a phone book would stop a .50 caliber handgun round. Phone books are concealment, not cover. She neglected a fundamental rule of gun safety; “never point a gun at anything you are not willing to shoot” (like your boyfriend).
That death was partially ignorance for not understanding the power of the .50 Action Express cartridge and partially a total lack of respect for the danger of shooting at a human being. Don’t let your kids win the Darwin Award. Had those two poor lovers righteously feared the power of guns, no one would even know they existed, aside from the viewers of their bad channel. You don’t let someone shoot you unless you are a cast member of “Jackass” or you are selling bulletproof vests.
Children and teens with limited exposure to firearms do not respect the danger of guns. Far too many adults are guilty of the same, like this mom who found a gun and pulled the trigger to see if it was loaded. In Korea, range accidents (among suicides) are rampant because of no exposure to guns among the population, leading to measures like RSOs wearing vests and chaining guns up during firing (read the comments on the link). Many of the employees at tourist ranges here in Nevada can tell you many similar stories about customers who have no idea how one fumble of the trigger with the muzzle in the wrong direction can be disastrous.
A healthy fear of anything dangerous is necessary to stay alive. Responsible gun owners jump all over YouTubers for not clearing a gun on camera or gun store clerks for muzzling customers with a gun that is 99.9% probably empty. That is because we understand the danger and know “better safe than sorry.” The first rule of gun safety is to treat every firearm as if it were loaded. If that one rule were always obeyed, gun accidents would decline dramatically. It isn’t paranoia.
Lock Them Up!
It’s all fun and games to blame people for leaving their car unlocked or values in sight when their stuff gets stolen, but it sure sucks when it happens to you, right? Just that one time can turn into a stolen phone and a broken window. Still better than a child’s life because an accidental shooting couldn’t happen to you.
Training all children isn’t realistic. Plenty of parents talk about their incorrigible kids who never listen and always get into trouble. Just because you teach a child something doesn’t necessarily mean they will understand or obey. It isn’t going to work because you can’t train the neighbors’ kids or the friends that get invited over to your house. Your perfect child might not mess with the gun under your mattress, but that no-good friend of theirs will and isn’t smart enough to avoid sending a bullet into your precious little angel.
The best precaution is to lock away the guns. If they can’t get at it, they can’t hurt themselves. Yes, gun safes of all sorts can be picked, combinations guessed, and keys found, but defeating a determined attempt to get a gun isn’t the point. It is to remove as much temptation as possible, to make things difficult, and to keep guns from falling into the hands of young children. Amy Pittman’s children could have been alive if they were taught to respect guns, true, but they certainly would be alive if her boyfriend had put the guns in a safe too.
When it comes to self-defense, you take every reasonable precaution, right? You use hollow points, you keep your gun clean, you carry extra mags, you have night sights, a light, you train regularly in practical situations, you practice drawing, and you mentally rehearse scenarios. But why don’t you take all the reasonable precautions to avoid an accident? Lock your guns up, please. No matter how smart you think you are and how well-behaved your kids are, shit happens. Don’t be that guy who makes us look bad and who is responsible for the death of a child.
Should parents be prosecuted?
Prosecution for parental negligence after child shootings is rare and inconsistent. Laws vary from state to state. Many feel that it is wrong to punish someone after losing their child and it accomplishes nothing. They get quite hot under the collar when you suggest something so “inhumane.” I wonder how many of those don’t lock up their guns properly and they imagine themselves in hot water. But does it do any good to punish parents after the “ultimate” punishment of losing a child?
Fuck sympathy and not adding insult to injury—this isn’t a traffic collision. Put the responsible party away for a year, no more, no less, so they can think about what they did and never own a gun again. If you let a child get shot for leaving out a gun, you have forfeited your right to own one ever again. I’m guessing this winner doesn’t have much in the way of remorse and so punishment is right up his alley.
Make them remember what happened and why they are in jail so they can reconsider the poor decisions leading up to this point. If they were too stupid or too selfish to think about the safety of their children, then give them a time out to think now. Let them be tortured and haunted by the horror and learn their lesson. Perhaps they will emerge as better, more considerate members of society.
Prosecute and incarcerate as a warning to others; not so much as to instill a fear of jail (one should fear a dead child more), but for publicity. Maybe someone will see the story on the news and secure their gun. The average public is far more likely to see and respond to a tragic accident than they would to a proactive offer of gun safety training or supplies. The prospect of grieving alone in prison is not one that any parent would want.