Accidental shootings killed one American child every other day in the first half of 2016, according to a new analysis that found many more children are killed by guns than official statistics indicate.
The analysis, by The Associated Press and USA Today, compiled statistics on the gun-inflicted deaths of children by including local media reports of individual cases, as well as information provided by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan research group.
The reporters tracked more than 1,000 cases between Jan. 1, 2014, and June 30, 2016.
The report details several key findings:
- Children younger than 5 and teenagers between 15 and 17 are the two most at-risk groups for accidental gun deaths.
- Almost 90 3-year-olds were killed or injured by guns over the time period tracked. Most of those were self-inflicted.
- Most kids who die from gunshot wounds are shot in their own homes, with handguns legally owned by parents, grandparents or other family members.
- Southern states like Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia have the highest per-capita rates of accidental child shooting deaths.
The AP cited one death as emblematic of the problem: Bryson Mees-Hernandez, an Iron Man-loving 4-year-old, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January of 2015 when he found a loaded .22-caliber revolver hidden under his grandmother's bed.
Mees-Hernandez's grandmother kept the gun for personal protection and was a legal gun owner, as most adults are in cases of kids accidentally killed by guns. The report notes that most of the cases involve curious toddlers and young children who find loaded handguns stashed away by adults in their families. Those guns are usually hidden inside homes or vehicles, and the young children who find them are likely to kill themselves or other children their age.
By contrast, teenagers who are accidentally killed by firearms are usually shot while a friend or sibling is showing off a gun.
The report also found that government statistics undercount the number of children killed by guns. For example, the AP and USA Today found that 113 children were accidentally killed in gun-related incidents in 2014, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recorded only 74 cases in the same year.
The CDC says that's because it relies on information provided on death certificates. Sometimes the deaths of children accidentally killed in gun-related incidents are classified as homicides, and sometimes they're listed as "undetermined," the agency told the AP. Individual medical examiners are responsible for determining causes of death and classifying them on death certificates, which means standards and practices can vary by jurisdiction.
"The extent of the problem is a little bit shocking. The extent of the undercount is a little bit shocking," Lindsay Nichols, an attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, told the AP. "A lot of it provides further evidence that this is such a horrible pattern that continues and that more action is needed."
Almost 1.7 million U.S. kids live in homes where parents keep guns that are loaded or not locked up, and those kids are 16 times more likely to die in accidental shootings than children in comparable first-world countries, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The group pushes for legislation to require parents to secure their guns, and for every gun sold to come with a trigger, chamber or cable lock.
The Gun Violence Archive uses local media reports to compile a running tally of children killed or injured by guns in the U.S. The group's website has identified 15 children who were killed in the first 13 days of October, as well as 26 who were injured by gunshots.
In the Mees-Hernandez case, the boy's grandmother, Ana Sperber, told the AP that she kept the gun in a case underneath her bed. She kept it there because she was worried about local break-ins she'd read about on Facebook, and thought the case would keep it secure -- but her 4-year-old grandson was able to open it and retrieve the gun.
Mees-Hernandez was buried with Legos and toy cars in an Iron Man-themed casket.
"I thought it was secure, but I was wrong. My grandbaby's gone. And it happened while I was watching him and I failed him," Sperber told the AP through tears. "I don't want anyone to ever, ever go through this. It's so horrible."