Children & Guns: Accidents from Accessibility

The .45-caliber pistol that killed Lucas Heagren, 3, on Memorial Day last year at his Ohio home had been temporarily hidden under the couch by his father. But Lucas found it and shot himself through the right eye. “It’s bad,” his mother told the 911 dispatcher. “It’s really bad.” In Houston, a group of youths found a Glock pistol in an apartment closet while searching for snack money. A 15-year-old boy was handling the gun when it went off. Alex Whitfield, who had just turned 11, was struck. A relative found the bullet in his ashes from the funeral home. These cases are among the most horrific gun-related deaths that are caused by the easy accessibility to the weapon. A recent New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by authorities. The killings of the children mentioned above were not reported as accidents. Nor were more than half of the 259 accidental firearm deaths of children under the age of 15 identified by The Times in eight states where records were available. As a result of these unreported accidents, these scored are not reflected in the official statistics that frame debate over how to protect children from guns. The NRA recently released a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning or environmental factors. In an effort to compensate for the undercounting of child gun accidents, The New York Times sought to identify every accidental firearm death of children 14 and under in Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio dating to 1999, and in California to 2007. Records were also obtained from several county medical examiners’ offices in Florida, Illinois and Texas. The Times recorded 259 gun accidents that killed children ages 14 and under. In California, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, roughly twice as many accidental killings were identified by The Times than what was recorded in federal data. The reason for this major difference is that most accidental deaths are recorded as homicides. If your child has been seriously injured in a gun-related accident, contact us immediately for help. Learn more about this story.