Twenty children. That’s how many innocents were stolen from the future of our country on that cold December day in Newtown, Connecticut. Even though we owe it to the families and to the nation to stop senseless deaths such as these, in the five months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, seventy-one more children have died at the barrel of a gun– the same as over three-and-a-half Newtowns.
In an infographic released by Mother Jones, it is painfully clear that we have a problem with child-related gun incidents in this country. Of the seventy-one gun deaths, all were children age twelve or younger. Forty were accidents. Those accidents include the death of two-year-old Caroline Sparks, who died after her five-year-old brother, trained in the use of firearms, picked up a loaded rifle and shot. The remaining 31 gun deaths, heartbreakingly, are homicides. Disturbingly, FOUR of the victims were younger than one year; they include three 6-month-olds and one 5-month-old. Of the four, three were killed by members of their own families.
The joint report done by Slate and Mother Jones outlines many other disturbing details:
- The most common scenario was kid-on-kid: At least 29 of the accidental deaths occurred when a kid under 17 pulled the trigger.
- The average age of the victims was just under six years old.
- 20 victims were girls and 51 were boys.
- The problem was worst in the South: Florida had the most kids killed (four accidents, five alleged homicides), followed by Ohio and Tennessee (four accidents and two alleged homicides in each state), followed by Alabama (two accidents, two alleged homicides) and South Carolina (four accidents).
It is telling that many of the accidental deaths recorded since the Newtown murders have taken place in the home, with guns owned by the family. Caroline Sparks was shot with a youth rifle that belonged to her brother, left loaded and readily available to the child. Brennan Nowell, two, died after finding his grandfather’s loaded and unsecured .40 caliber handgun. Four-year-old Joshua Jackson died after finding and playing with yet another loaded, unsecured gun. Even in my home state of Alaska, where gun ownership is a very common, everyday part of life, a five-year-old girl was shot and killed by her eight-year-old brother, trained in the use of firearms, when they were left alone and unsupervised in a home with a, you guessed it, loaded and unsecured gun. In fact, a recent report by the American Public Health Association found that of homes that had both children and guns, a full 43% had at least one unsecured gun. Thus, the number of accidental gun deaths of children in this country should really come as no surprise.
Newtown was extraordinarily unsettling because of the high casualty count, as it should be. But we need to be aware, as a nation, that our children are killed, accidentally or intentionally, by guns almost every day; guns allegedly owned by ‘responsible’ gun owners. Unfortunately, the kind of ‘responsible’ gun owners we are talking about here include those who think it is perfectly okay to give a child a gun and teach him to shoot it before he can even read and write. This also includes manufacturers who target youth audiences, such as Keystone Sporting Arms, makers of the Crickett ‘My First Rifle‘– the same rifle that killed little Caroline Sparks.
While mass shootings bring the issue of gun violence to the forefront of political dialogue, we don’t need to wait for yet another one (which, until we get reasonable and responsible gun control measures in place, will be inevitable), to fight as hard as we can for our kids and our future. You can be damned sure the other side will be fighting. Don’t sit still and let them win.