Fears, Phobias, Guns, and Children

The report on the Sparks, NV school shooting was made available last week. [RGJ]  Unfortunately, there’s not much to be learned.  A child with serious mental health issues.  Parents unaware of his taste for violent video games.  A child teased at school, often misinterpreting generalized incidents as personal attacks.  School tried to offer assistance.  Parents insistent the child did not have easy access to firearms.  Child may have had suicidal ideation.

Since the report was released newspapers have posted stories about the accidental death of a four year old Indiana boy who found a loaded gun in his parent’s bedroom. The death was attributed to an “accident.”  [TPM]  A San Antonio, TX six year old is dead after being shot in the face with a gun found in the home. [TPM] April 22, 2014: A four year old girl was shot and killed in her Des Moines, IA home and police noted “unsafe gun handling” practices in the house. [KCCI]

April 29, 2014: A toddler was killed by a firearm found in a home in Wichita, KS, shot by a sibling. [KWCH]  March 5, 2014: A five year old boy found a gun in his Riverside, CA house, fired it and killed himself. [NBC4]

The numbers keep adding up. Numbers of parents who thought the firearms were ‘properly’ stored, the number of children who find them, and the number of tragedies which unfold across the country in the aftermath.   Even more depressing, the ‘numbers’ may be higher than official accounting.  “A 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 the authorities.” [NYT]

However, while children may be either intentionally or accidentally using firearms which they are not supposed to be able to access, the adults appear to be playing numbers games, to wit:

“The National Rifle Association cited the lower official numbers this year in a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning or environmental factors — an incorrect assertion if the actual number of accidental firearm deaths is significantly higher.” [NYT]

The numbers may very well be higher than the reporting used by the NRA, but that’s missing the mark.  The point is that less than half the states in this Union have safe storage laws.  Nevada’s statute on the subject approaches the issue, but falls short of requiring safe storage.

NRS 41.472 Imposition of liability for minor’s negligence or willful misconduct regarding firearm.
1. If a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for a minor under the age of 18 years:
(a) Knows that the minor has previously been adjudicated delinquent or has been convicted of a criminal offense;
(b) Knows that the minor has a propensity to commit violent acts; or
(c) Knows or has reason to know that the minor intends to use the firearm for unlawful purposes,
and permits the minor to use or possess a firearm, any negligence or willful misconduct of the minor in connection with such use or possession is imputed to the person who permits such use or possession for all purposes of civil damages, and, notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of NRS 41.470, that person is jointly and severally liable with the minor for any and all damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.

In short, the parents have to KNOW the child is delinquent, KNOW the child has a propensity to violence, and KNOW the child intends to use a firearm to commit a criminal act BEFORE liability comes into play.   Nothing in the Nevada statute requires “safe storage” if there are children in the household.  [See: LCPGV]

The counter argument is that safely stored guns make households more likely to be ravaged by “violent home intruders.” [KBA]  Anecdotal evidence is often supplied to make this case, however the statistically based study conducted in 1997 for JAMA yields another result:

“Laws that make gun owners responsible for storing firearms in a manner that makes them inaccessible to children were in effect for at least 1 year in 12 states from 1990 through 1994. Among children younger than 15 years, unintentional shooting deaths were reduced by 23% (95% confidence interval, 6%-37%) during the years covered by these laws. This estimate was based on within-state comparisons adjusted for national trends in unintentional firearm-related mortality.”  [NCBI]

There’s an obvious hole in the “home invader” argument — there’s a higher probability that the firearm will cause harm to a resident of the household than to a purported home invader. [Medscape] [NCBI] [AJE]   The second hole in the argument is that actual home invasions are rare.

Contrary to the melodramas on television, violent crimes represent only 19.7% of the criminal acts reported in Nevada, this would include all murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults.   If we drill down to the murder category — 24% were the result of an argument, 17% were the result of domestic violence, while 2% were the result of a robbery and 1% the result of a burglary. [NV 2010 pdf]

Strangers accounted for 20.5% of the  2010 murders, while family members, friends, acquaintances, former partners, and dating relationships comprised the majority of the relationships.  (Note: Reporting variances leave some relationships in the “unknown” category. [NV 2010 pdf]  In short, the old saw holds true, a person is most likely to be a victim because of the actions of another person known to him or her than to some unknown robber or burglar.

The lethality point is quickly demonstrated in the 2010 statistics.  In 2010 handguns were the lethal weapon of choice 53.4% of the time, long guns 5.6%, knives 13.7%, feet/fists 11.2%, the wonderfully nebulous “blunt instrument” accounted for 6/2%. [NV 2010 pdf]

What do we know and have we known for some time now?

(1) Safe storage requirements can reduce unintentional shooting deaths by approximately 23% for children under the age of 15.

(2) There is a far higher statistical probability that a firearm will cause injury or death to a member of the household than it will be used to thwart the invasion of the home by criminals.

(3) It is less likely that a person will be murdered in Nevada by a stranger than by a member or former member of a household.  And, if murder is the result of an altercation the weapon most likely used will be a handgun.

(4) Since the Newtown tragedy,” Of the K-12 school shootings in which the shooter’s age was known, 70 percent (20 of 28 incidents) were perpetrated by minors. Among those shootings where it was possible to determine the source of the firearm, three-quarters of the shooters obtained their guns from home.” [WaPo] (emphasis added)

With every right comes responsibility.  Firearms and children are obviously not a good mixture.  Gun safety education is a good idea, and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. However, gun safety training is not effective with toddlers, toilet training is about all they can handle and even that requires constant attention.  It is not always a match for youthful inquisitiveness.  It is not going to prevent a young person with homicidal or suicidal ideation from seeing the weapon as a means to unfortunate ends.

If the adults in the home are obsessed with fears of home invasions (Black Helicopters, federal agents, Blue Helmets, Drug Gangs, etc.) and so phobic that they believe firearms must be kept constantly at the ready — then for all intents and purposes the home isn’t safe for children in the first place.   Nor does it do to disparage the Gadget Proposals — trigger locks, smart guns, etc. — yes, these can be over-ridden, but the fact that they can be over-ridden doesn’t necessarily support the argument that they can’t be effective.  And, in every instance in which they are effective we have one less tragedy to report.

If we really want our children and their schools to be safer, we don’t need an abundance of the weapons which make them unsafe in the first place, we need:

(a) More recent and more informed gun incident reporting statutes and practices.

(b) More attention paid to gun safety as a health issue, especially for children under the age of 18.

(c) More stringent gun storage statutes which protect children in homes where firearms are present.

1 Comment

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One response to “Fears, Phobias, Guns, and Children

  1. “Parents insistent the child did not have easy access to firearms.”

    I read the story. The gun was behind the cereal boxes. What the effing hell?