At the end of 2015, one of the big news stories summing up the events of the prior year was a piece by the Washington Post. This report highlighted the unbelievable but true fact that for every week in 2015, a toddler was responsible for shooting either themselves or another human being in the US – in some cases, fatally.
Now that 2016 is done and dusted, we can officially confirm that the concerning trend continued last year. That means, for the past 104 weeks, there has been at least one toddler somewhere in the US firing a gun and hitting themselves or another person.
In fact, the situation is getting worse: the rate of toddler shootings in 2016 was up 6% year on year, an alarming result given a continued focus on gun control in the United States.
By October 2016, there had already been 51 shootings committed by toddlers – up from 47 at the same time in 2015.
Tragically, there has been an increase in the number of fatalities as a result of toddler shooting as well. Up to October 2016, 16 of the 39 toddlers who shot themselves died from their wounds.
The data also shows that toddlers are shooting more other people, too. At last count, there had been 12 incidents involving toddlers shooting other people in 2016, although the final number is expected to be higher once all the data comes in.
One of the more tragic cases occurred in Arizona in October, when a two-year old fired and hit his own mother after she tried to prize a handgun from him. Luckily, the woman survived the incident, but it could have easily been another fatality in the long list of toddler shootings.
Another incident, also in October, involved a another two-year old, this time in Michigan. In that case, the young boy fired a rifle at his four-month old baby sister. Once again, the victim survived, but it could have been much worse given the young age of his sister.
Looking at the geographic distribution of toddler-shooting incidents across the US, it appears that some states are overrepresented. For example, Georgia, ranked 8th in terms of population, ranked 2nd in terms of the number of toddler shootings in 2016. Meanwhile, New York, the 3rd most populated state, only recorded one incident. And in 2015, there was not one recorded case of a toddler shooting in California, the nation’s most populated state.
It is a deeply concerning trend that toddler shootings are on the rise and not showing any sign of slowing down. This is despite the considerable media attention and focus on getting gun owners to be more responsible with their weapons.
Part of the issue is that US law regarding firearm locking devices is still yet to be implemented in the majority of states. Presently, only 11 states have legislation that mandates locking devices. Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires that all firearms be stored with a lock in place; California, Connecticut, and New York impose this requirement in certain situations.
Other state laws regarding locking devices are similar to the federal law, in that they require locking devices to accompany certain guns manufactured, sold, or transferred. Five of the eleven states also set standards for the design of locking devices or require them to be approved by a state agency for effectiveness.
In contrast, Georgia – one of the states with the highest rates of toddler shootings – doesn’t currently have locking device laws for firearms. In addition, minors in Georgia can actually carry firearms when they are attending hunter education and firearms safety courses, practicing target shooting at a range, or participating in competitions or performances that use firearms. With the consent of their parents, minors may also apply for hunting licenses and may carry firearms while on their parents’ property.