About 110 children die each year in accidental shootings. The shootings follow a tragic pattern: A child — typically a boy — finds a firearm, plays with it, and accidentally fires it off, killing or injuring a family member, a friend, or himself.
So how many state laws actively try to prevent these tragedies? According to the gun control advocacy group Everytown, 28 states have child access prevention laws in place. Half these states specifically penalize people who leave guns around children in a careless, reckless, or negligent manner. The other 14 states have weaker laws that prohibit knowingly giving a child a gun or require that certain circumstances be met, such as the child actually shooting the firearm.
Child access laws mostly serve as deterrents, as Monica Potts recently reported for the Trace. There is a general reluctance to actually prosecute someone when a child gets ahold of a gun and shoots someone, since it could worsen the tragedy. So prosecutions and punishments are rare.
Still, a 2000 study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found 15 states that enacted child access laws before 1998 saw a 17 percent decline in unintentional firearm death rates among children under 15 years old. Florida's law, among the strictest in the country, saw a 51 percent decline. But researchers also found that 14 states with child access laws didn't see statistically significant effects.
So these laws can potentially prevent enormous tragedies, which not only inflict serious harm on the shooting victim but can traumatize children who — without knowing any better — kill or seriously injure a family member or friend.
It's also true that these types of tragedies are far more common in the US. Since these accidents require stray guns to be around, and Americans are much more likely than people in other developed nations to own guns, American kids are much more likely to accidentally shoot and kill themselves.
These deaths are way more common in the US, because the US has way more guns
Like all gun violence, unintentional gun deaths by children are a much bigger problem in the US compared with its developed peers around the world. A 2011 study co-authored by David Hemenway, who heads the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, found that in the US, unintentional firearm death rates of children ages 0 to 14 are about 10 times higher than in other developed countries.
People tend to believe that having a firearm on themselves or in their homes will protect them. But the research shows this isn't the case: Living in a house with a gun actually increases a person's odds of an early death. Looking at the evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded, "The absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents."
But Americans are among the least likely people to follow this advice in the developed world. Americans make up about 4.43 percent of the world's population, yet own roughly 42 percent of all the world's privately held firearms. And the US has the highest number of privately owned guns in the world: Estimated in 2007, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 88.8 guns per 100 people. The world's second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 54.8 guns per 100 people.
The empirical research suggests this leads to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths each year, because more guns mean more gun deaths. Researchers have found this is true not just with accidents but also with homicides, suicides, domestic violence, and even violence against police. To deal with those problems, America will have to not only make guns less accessible, but likely reduce the number of guns in the US as well.
Many American may look at these numbers and still believe that more restrictive gun laws — like those that require guns to be safely stored — are a bad idea, and gun rights are worth protecting. But the research suggests these beliefs come at a deadly cost — and for parents, the statistics should invite caution when they consider placing kids in environments with firearms.