Victor Kuznetsov / Alamy

Report: Accidental shootings kill more kids than federal data shows

Study says unintentional shootings kill two kids a week, and government reports often count them as homicides

Two children lose their lives in unintentional shootings almost every week in the United States, a finding that is substantially higher than government figures, according to a new study published Wednesday by a leading gun-control advocacy group.

The study, titled “Innocents Lost: A Year of Unintentional Child Gun Deaths,” listed 100 deaths in 35 states for 2013.

The findings represent a 61 percent higher figure than the average number of unintentional gun deaths reported annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2007 through 2011, according to the report, published by the organization Everytown for Gun Safety.

The report said the majority of the shootings occurred in places likely thought of as safe, with 84 percent of deaths happening in a home or vehicle belonging to the victim’s family, or in the home of a friend or relative. In 76 percent of cases studied, the gun belonged to a parent or other family member.

The researchers in the study looked at publicly reported cases of child gun deaths in the 12 months following the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting in December 2012.

The report said the wide discrepancy between the CDC’s figures and group's was due to improper categorizations by medical examiners, who sometimes mistakenly label a death as a homicide even though it is caused by an unintentional shooting. 

“When a young child perpetrates a shooting their intent may be difficult to determine, and local medical examiners tend to err towards classifying these as homicides,” the report said.  

In 2013, a separate analysis by The New York Times looked at child gun deaths in eight states and found that more than half of the accidental shootings had been misclassified as intentional homicides.

“Too often child gun deaths are reported as inevitable 'accidents,' but our analysis found that more than two-thirds of these tragedies were entirely preventable — if only the firearm had been stored responsibly,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, said in a news release Wednesday.

The report found that killings occurred more often in small towns and rural areas than in cities.

Children ages 2 to 4 have the highest risk of accidentally shooting themselves, whereas those ages 12 to 14 have the highest risk of being unintentionally shot by a peer, according to the report.

Based on the findings, Everytown proposed a number of specific recommendations to reduce the number of children killed in unintentional gun shootings, including promoting enhanced storage practices and passage of child-access prevention laws.  

"States should adopt stronger laws to prevent children from accessing unsecured guns by authorizing criminal charges if an adult gun owner stores a gun negligently, a child gains access to the firearm, and some harm results," the report said.

Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have some laws on the books that permit law enforcement to bring criminal charges against gun owners if children access their guns, according to Everytown's website.

A recent poll conducted by Everytown found that 82 percent of Americans — and 81 percent of gun owners — favor allowing law enforcement to charge gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to an improperly stored gun and death or serious injury occurs.

The report also recommended allowing doctors to promote gun safety. 

“Preventing doctors from talking to patients and parents about gun safety in the home — which the gun lobby has systematically tried to do in states across the country — puts our children’s lives at risk," Feinblatt said in the news release.

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter