None of us want to deal with a situation that involves a shoplifter with a deadly weapon. But what’s more disturbing than guns in the hands of shoplifters? Apparently it’s guns in the hands of toddlers. This type of dreadful incident does happen on occasion—a child finds a gun, fires it, and hurts or kills himself or someone else in the process. Such cases rarely surface at the national level except when someone, like a parent, is killed. But unfortunately it would appear that cases like this happen a lot more frequently than one might think. Toddlers around the U.S. have been getting their hands on loaded guns with tragic results an average of once a week so far in 2015.
According to the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham, so far in 2015 at least 43 toddlers have found a gun, pointed it at himself or someone else, and pulled the trigger. In 31 of those cases, the toddlers shot themselves, and 13 of them died from their wounds. 12 toddlers shot other people, two of whom died. That makes 43 people shot by toddlers, and 15 people killed by toddlers with guns so far this year. According to the report, boys are disproportionately more likely to firearms incidents, with only three of those incidents involving a girl under the age of 4 wounded someone with a gun.
Just this week, a two-year-old in South Carolina found a gun on the back seat of the car in which he was riding and shot his grandmother, who was sitting in the passenger seat. In August, a 21-month-old in the St Louis area found a loaded handgun at his grandmother’s house and shot himself in the torso. His mother took him to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Earlier in the year, a Michigan three-year-old found a loaded .40-calibre handgun in a closet while his father and brother were outside. He shot himself in the head and died before rescue workers arrived. In another case, a three-year-old wounded both of his parents with a single gunshot at an Albuquerque motel…
The stories go on and on like this. Yet unfortunately gun safety concerns remain, and these numbers are probably largely underestimated. There are most likely instances of toddlers shooting people that result in minor injuries and no media coverage. And there are probably many more cases where a child shoots a gun and doesn’t hit anyone, resulting in little more than a scared kid and (hopefully) chastened parents.
These numbers don’t include cases where toddlers are shot, intentionally or otherwise, by older children or adults. Dozens of preschoolers are killed in acts of homicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But while these cases are invariably referred to as “accidents” in media reports, many incidents like this are preventable, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws. In a study of accidental shootings by children of all ages (not just toddlers), the group says that “more than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners practiced basic gun safety practices and stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them”.
Of course the toddlers are not to blame. They are toddlers. Their curiosity and lack of understanding of the potential consequences is well-known to any parent. But this also isn’t a question of gun control or ownership or constitutional rights—it’s a matter of safety and common sense. Regardless of where any of us stand on gun control for adults, we should all be able to agree that dangerous weapons don’t belong in the hands of toddlers. Firearms should always be properly and safely stored and secured. Gun locks should be used. Firearms should never be left, stored, or in any way accessible in a way where children can get their hands on them.
Anytime that loss prevention professionals deal with shoplifter apprehensions in the retail environment, we are aware of the potential dangers that can arise when approaching and attempting to detain these individuals. The threat is real, and the consequences can be tragic. We’re trained to use caution and avoid situations where someone can be hurt, whether that may involve us as individuals or someone else. None of us should ever face the same concerns when dealing with a three-year-old. Ever.