Why Parents Keep Shooting Their Kids

Guns are about the only product in the United States with no consumer safety restrictions. A new report finds that even gun owners want that to change.

Kevork Djansezian

The uniquely American scourge—among high-income countries at least—of children being shot by family, friends, and neighbors is much worse than previously known, according to a report by Everytown For Gun Safety, which found that 70% of these incidents are preventable.

Recently, in a Target parking lot, a man who goes by the nickname “Gun Runner” lectured a small crowd of mostly men about to open carry their rifles of mass destruction into a store—including explaining to them where they could find the “muzzle” of a gun. This past week, in Georgia, a man shot himself in the penis while “holstering” his firearm at a gas station, only discovering his accidental self-mutilation and the exit wound in his “buttocks” after arriving at a friend's house shortly thereafter.

What do all of these incidents have in common? The fact that guns are still treated like toys in this country—they are the only consumer product not regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a weapon that kills yet does not require the purchase any personal liability insurance. Even as the death toll from homicides, accidental killings and suicides continues apace, we are still allowing those who view this shameful blot on police blotters across America as an “unfortunate accident” to make our laws.

It is time for those who know these tragedies are largely preventable, between three-quarters and nine-tenths of us, to realize that we can change this culture just as we changed drunk driving from “oh shucks" to negligent homicide. We can start being the Non-Silent Majority to stop the boys-with-toys and gun-profiteer crowd from distorting a clear public policy imperative.

Shannon Watts, the executive director of Moms Demand Action, said gun safety laws should be toughened up to make it a criminal offense to allow children to access weapons. “The majority of these tragedies could have been prevented by responsible firearm storage. When a child dies or is injured because a gun is left unsecured in a home, it’s not an accident,” she told the Daily Beast.

Everytown’s new report and polling make this case in simple black and white. By collecting data over a year’s time, something the National Rifle Association has fought vehemently against the government doing lest its habitual lying about the relationship between guns and human tragedy be further exposed, they were able to discover that 61% more children are killed by guns than previously thought, based on federal data.

That 70% of these killings of our children are preventable simply by locking up guns in the home, keeping them stored separately from ammunition and taking a few other common sense precautions, takes this from the realm of simply disturbing to downright perverted.

In the polling Everytown did, it could not be any clearer. Well over eight in 10 people (86%), including over three-quarters of gun owners (77%), think “parents with guns in their homes should be required to keep them locked and unloaded.” Contra the NRA and its political hucksters such as Governor Rick Scott of Florida, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) and gun owners (72%) think doctors and teachers should be able to warn parents about safe storage of guns.

Perhaps most important, 82% of Americans and 81% of gun owners favor “allowing law enforcement to charge adult gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to a negligently stored gun and death or serious injury occur.” Because if you leave your child in a hot car with the windows up or let them climb into a pool without adult supervision or they get their hands on your alcohol, you go to jail. It doesn’t make any sense for guns to be treated differently.

Those of us who have kids know that the moment you tell them not to do something is the moment they wait until you’re not looking to do it. So the NRA’s supposed safety program, Eddie The Eagle, which puts all the responsibility on the child who sees a gun to not use it on themselves or someone else, is patently absurd.

Again, what if you left an open bottle of Tylenol or hedge clippers or anything else that can harm your child out in the open, but asked them not to touch it? Do you think that would work? And do you think you wouldn’t be held responsible when it didn’t? That people would say “that family has suffered enough,” and the law wouldn’t ask why that child didn't have the right to a safe environment free from harmful objects?

Clearly, as Everytown’s polling shows, the vast majority of us see guns the same way, but for some reason we’re willing to accept it when a fringe group or “minority terrorizes the rest of us,” to paraphrase former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Open-carry lunatics are taking their assault weapons into stores like Target (who so far has done nothing about this—keep that in mind when deciding where to shop) in states where there have been recent mass shootings and Stand Your Ground laws allow people to shoot first when they feel threatened. Men are shooting themselves in the penis, in the leg and bleeding out while driving, and on any day you can find any number of horror stories about children accidentally shooting each other.

It is time to stop trusting people with guns but no laws that regulate them, people who apparently have no idea how to use them, no idea what safety is and not quite the brain capacity to see danger on the horizon with a loaded gun and children in the same house.

When this happens in our society in any other circumstances, we take the power to hurt others—at least legally—out of the hands of those who would allow it to happen. As over eight in 10 gun owners and non-gun owners alike think we should do here, we must hold these gun nuts legally accountable for what is negligent homicide (or suicide).

Not only will it immediately save lives, but the threat of jail time has a way of clearing the mind on subjects such as these. It will help change our culture.

In Parenthood, the always sagacious Keanu Reeves reminds us that “…you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car—hell, you even need a license to catch a fish, but they’ll let any b**t-reaming a**hole be a father.” In the United States in 2014, we’re taking it a step further, letting that father have a gun too, and a get out of jail free card for his negligent actions and bad decisions.

It’s time for that to change.