Every week in the United States, if you look around enough for local news stories, you’ll find evidence of young children — say, under the age of 10 — accidentally shooting themselves or others. This week, it's a three year old in Horry County, South Carolina, who “got ahold” of a gun and fatally shot himself. The incident is still under investigation. In 2015, at least 265 children accidentally shot themselves or others. American children are nearly 10 times more likely than children in other developed nations to be killed by guns, and nearly 90 percent of accidental shooting deaths of children happen at their own home. Though this story has recently become something of a meme on the internet, as in, “toddlers kill more people than terrorists,” it's worth examining all of the myriad of issues that abound in even a single incident of accidental toddler gun death.
In 2015, at least 265 children accidentally shot themselves or others.
First, by definition, a toddler shooting someone is always an “accident,” in that the toddler themselves are incapable of wanting to shoot or kill someone, mostly because toddlers don’t even have a formed concept of death. Many times, these stories heartbreakingly begin with the toddler “playing” at cops and robbers or some other gun based game.
But beyond that: a toddler is not capable of possessing a permit for a firearm in any of the 50 states of the union. So, when a toddler grabs a nearby gun and shoots himself or someone else, often, even if the incident is fatal, no one is charged with a crime. Because the whole thing is an accident.
Any parent of a three or four year old likely can’t imagine allowing them alone in a room with a pair of blunt scissors, let alone a deadly weapon. And though we as a nation seem to be terminally incapable of relinquishing our dedication to firearms, it's a failure on every level imaginable when a child shoots itself or others. Even for gun owners and enthusiasts, keeping weapons out of the hands of children should be an achievable goal. Why it seemingly is not at this point is a question we should be continually asking ourselves.
Last year, 670 children under 11 and more than 3,000 teens under the age of 18 died from guns. This is, admittedly, technically a small piece of a very large problem in a country where there were more than 15,000 deaths (not counting the more than 22,000 suicides by gun that happen every single year). This number has risen steadily each year for the past several years, and it shows no signs of decreasing as we seemingly prepare for a Republican rollback on measures to restrict handgun ownership. But it’s never not going to be worth asking ourselves what the lives of any child under the age of 18 is worth. And it’s worth asking ourselves what part of the blame we all should bear in each death.