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Record number of unintentional shootings by children in May and June

Rep. Rashida Tlaib has introduced a bill intended to reduce firearms deaths by requiring gun dealers to offer for sale a safety device with each gun sale.

By Matt Cohen - June 29, 2023
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Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., attends a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on a discharge petitions to bring
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., attends a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on a discharge petition to bring "common-sense gun safety legislation," to the floor on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

A 3-year-old child died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside his home in Trenton, New Jersey, on June 14. On June 21 in Norwalk, Ohio, a 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his pregnant mother with the family’s gun. And in Howell, Michigan, on June 11, the 2-year-old child of a police officer died after they accidentally shot themself with a loaded handgun in the house.

These are just three of 73 unintentional shootings by children that occurred this year between May 1 and June 22, according to data tracked by the gun safety advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Since 2015, Everytown has tracked the number of accidental shootings by children in May and June, the two months when summer vacation begins and some children don’t have the daily supervision that they have during the school year. The number of these kinds of shootings is the highest on record since 2015, when Everytown started tracking the data.

“It’s absolutely gut wrenching to look at the data and see how many children have accessed guns and unintentionally shot themselves or someone else already this summer, often a sibling or friend over for a playdate,” Sarah Burd Sharps, Everytown’s senior director of research, said in a statement.

So far this year, there have been 186 accidental shootings by children, 66 of which have been fatal. According to Everytown’s research, 54% of firearm owners don’t securely lock their guns, and an estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with at least one unlocked and loaded gun. One of the most successful ways to reduce these killings is teaching safe firearm storage practices, research shows.

Everytown looked at more than 2,800 incidents of an unintentional shooting involving a child over the last seven years and found that the states with laws that prevent children from accessing firearms, or laws requiring the secure storage of firearms, had the lowest rates of shootings. 

In response to its analysis, Everytown launched Be SMART, an educational outreach program meant to spread awareness about gun safety best practices for parents. According to the organization’s statement, the program “helps parents and other adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries, youth suicide, and gunfire on school grounds.” Everytown has partnered with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives to help with outreach about the program and give out free gun locks in at least 19 cities.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are taking a different approach: requiring gun dealers to encourage safe storage.

On June 16, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced a bill to help reduce the number of accidental shootings by children. The Safe Storage Saves Lives Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), requires a gun dealer to offer for sale “a secure gun storage or safety device that is compatible with the firearm” for every firearm they sell.

“Tragically, in Southeast Michigan, we have witnessed the deadly consequences of children having easy access to firearms in their homes. Safe storage is key to protecting our children from gun violence,” Rep. Tlaib said in a statement. “The Safe Storage Saves Lives Act will require a gun lock with every gun sold in the United States. We must move with the urgency this moment demands and pass common sense gun safety legislation that will save lives.”

It’s not the first time a bill like this has been introduced in Congress. In 2021, Rep. DeLauro introduced a similar bill, nicknamed “Ethan’s Law” after a 15-year-old in Connecticut who accidentally shot and killed himself while playing with a loaded gun found in his friend’s father’s closet.

The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security of the House Judiciary Committee but was never brought to the floor for a vote.

“With legislation like Ethan’s Law and the Safe Storage Saves Lives Act, we can reduce access to these unsupervised firearms – which are often used in suicides, school shootings, and other acts of violence – and save lives,” Rep. DeLauro said in the statement released by Tlaib’s office.

In January 2023, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and a number of other Democratic senators introduced a version of Ethan’s Law in the Senate; the bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary but so far has not progressed.

“No one should have to face the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one because of an unsecured firearm,” Blumenthal said in a statement when the bill was introduced earlier this year. “Under Ethan’s Law, responsible safe storage requirements will help prevent these senseless, unnecessary deaths and protect the thousands of children living in homes with unsecured guns.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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