USA=-Today is carrying a story on accidental gun deaths of children in which the paper discovered that the CDC number for such events is probably undercounted by about half. The story describes specific accidental gun deaths, one in which a 4-year old shot himself with a handgun found in his grandparents’ home, another when a 6-year old killed his younger brother with a gun that was lying inside a motel room where the two kids and their parents were spending the night.
Undercounting accidental shootings (or intentional shootings, for that matter) by the CDC is hardly new news. Our friends at the Gun Violence Archive deliver data on and invariably the numbers they get from open media sources are higher than what either the CDC or the FBI report in just about every category of gun violence. And while the NRA will tell you that it’s never the gun but always the person who is to blame for someone being injured with a gun, blaming a 4 year-old for shooting himself is something of a stretch.
The way we usually think about gun violence is to analyze it by creating different categories that cover both the type of violence (intentional, unintentional, homicide, suicide, legal ‘intervention,’ etc.) and the identity of the victim (location, gender, race, age, etc.) We create these categories because we believe this will make it easier to craft sensible solutions to the problem, such as better CAP laws to prevent accidental shootings, temporary removal procedures for persons at-risk for suicide, and so forth. It turns out, of course, that the states with the highest rate of accidental shootings, according to the USA-Today article, have no mandated safe-storage requirements at all.
What I am about to say may appear heretical to many of my friends in the Gun Violence Prevention community, or what I prefer to call Gun-sense Nation, but I think that the value and efficacy of safe-storage solutions as a response to accidental gun violence needs to be more clearly understood. Because when I think about the root causes of gun violence, any kind of gun violence, I prefer not to think about the differences in circumstances or the people involved, but the commonalities which virtually every type of gun violence share. And the single commonality which appears in every, single act of gun violence, is that the person who pulls the trigger has done something impulsive, careless or both.
The number one reason for car accidents isn’t DUI or speeding, it’s carelessness, which is why we mandate wearing harnesses or belts. But you don’t have seatbelts on guns, which means that no matter how many times people are told to lock up or lock away their guns, sooner or later they’ll forget. And most accidental shootings don’t result in a young child getting hurt, but involve the owner of the gun who took it out to fool with it, show it to friends, clean it without checking whether or not it was loaded, and on and on and on. I personally know (or knew) three guys who shot themselves with their own guns; one died, two survived. All three were fooling around with their guns. The guy who died was playing ‘fast-draw’ down in his basement. Yanked the gun out of the holster, hammer snagged on his belt – bang!
I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation should back off from safe storage, or CAP laws or anything else. What I am saying is that there is simply no other consumer product that you can hold in your hand which is in any way, shape or function as remotely lethal as a gun. And if you believe that this lethality can somehow be mitigated by remaking the human brain so that we will stop being careless, then you go right ahead. Frankly, I prefer what Walter Mosley says, “Walk around with a gun and it will go off sooner or later.” He’s right.