Unintentional shooting death of a 5-year-old Goodlettsville boy on Saturday marks the eighth death of a Tennessee child due to an accident with a gun.
So far in 2015, twenty Tennessee children have been unintentionally shot.
Over the weekend, a 5-year-old child in Goodlettsville was unintentionally shot and killed by a sibling. The siblings’ father had been playing with the family’s cat with a laser mounted onto a gun. According to authorities, the father later went into the kitchen and forgot to put the firearm out of the reach of the children. The older child picked up the gun to get the cat to chase the laser. Police said the child did not know how to operate the laser and instead pulled the gun’s trigger, firing one shot that fatally wounded the 5-year-old.
This tragic shooting marks the 20th unintentional shooting of a Tennessee child under the age of 18 in 2015 and the 8th fatality in a state ranked 9th in the nation for accidental shootings.
The Tennessee children who have been injured or killed this year ranged in age from 18-months-old to high school seniors. Their experience with guns ranged from nonexistent in the case of the toddlers and preschoolers to teens who were described as being “very familiar with guns.”
At least three of the children who were injured or killed were the children of law enforcement officers.
Of those children who survived their unintentional shooting, the injuries ranged from minor to life threatening. Some injuries were serious and required extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation.
Of the older children who were injured and killed, the activity leading to the shooting varied from high school kids playing with a gun in a car on senior skip day, to two 13-year-olds playing with a gun outside, to a couple of high school sophomores playing with a gun at one of the boy’s homes, to a 17-year-old practicing his “quick draw skills” in front of a mirror.
The incidents involving younger children included a 3-year-old Coffee County toddler who unintentionally shot his 18-month-old brother in the head, a 4-year-old Memphis pre-schooler who shot and killed himself with a loaded handgun in his home as father did yard work outside, and a 2-year-old Madison toddler who killed himself with a gun found in his mother’s purse.
All but one of these unintentional shootings involved a child either accidentally shooting themselves or a friend or sibling. The only incident involving an adult unintentionally shooting a child occurred when a woman fired shots into the ground during an argument. One of the rounds she fired ricocheted and struck an 11-year-old standing nearby.
Last month in White Pine, Tennessee, an 11-year-old boy shot and killed his 8-year-old neighbor MaKayla Dyer when she wouldn’t let him play with her puppy. The boy, who is now in jail and charged with first-degree murder, used his father’s loaded and unsecured shotgun to kill MaKayla. The boy’s father has not been charged nor will he. Under Tennessee law, it is not illegal to leave loaded, unsecured firearms where children can find them.
The intentional shooting of a child by a child and the lack of charges against boy’s father sparked worldwide outrage.
“It is imperative that we address the number of children in our state who have access to guns and are hurting themselves or others with them,” said Beth Joslin Roth, Policy Director for The Safe Tennessee Project. “We stand with responsible gun owners who understand and take seriously the importance of safe and responsible firearms storage. While we certainly agree that gun safety education for children is necessary, just telling a child- even a teenager, that they are not allowed to touch a gun without adult supervision is simply not enough. Kids, even good kids who are obedient, can make mistakes and exercise bad judgement. We believe that the adult bears the full responsibility of keeping guns locked and away from kids. Adult gun owners who choose to be irresponsible and negligent with their guns should absolutely be held responsible. These shootings are not accidents. They are completely preventable tragedies.”
“Gun safety” can be interpreted different ways. It can mean teaching kids that if they find a gun, they must not touch it and they must alert an adult. It can also mean teaching children the proper way to handle and use firearms. However, studies show that just telling children not to touch a gun simply doesn’t work and that older kids who have been trained in gun safety still hurt themselves with guns.
Behavioral scientists like Dr. Ray Miltenberger and Dr. Marjorie Sanfilippo have studied the issue and news magazine shows like 20/20 have even conducted eye opening experiments where children of varying ages participate in a gun safety demonstration and are then put into situations where they find guns. In the vast majority of cases, even the children who have been taught gun safety at home, will pick up the gun and play with it, pointing it at other kids and at themselves. Those who don’t touch the gun themselves rarely leave the area or alert an adult.
The Washington Post reported last month that a toddler has shot themselves or another person every week this year: 13 killed themselves, 18 more more injured themselves, 10 inured other people, and 2 killed other people.
“There are any number of serious risks associated with unsafe gun storage,” Roth explained. “Little kids- toddlers and preschoolers- find loaded guns, pick them up and inadvertently fire them. Nationally, we’ve seen instances of toddlers accidentally shooting and sometimes killing other kids and even their own parents. But older children, including ones who have experience with guns, pick them up when adults aren’t around. They play with them, maybe showing off to friends, and the gun fires, injuring or killing them or their friend. Even beyond these unintentional shootings, other significant risks of unsafe storage include middle school and high school age kids using unsecured guns to commit suicide and those same tween and teens taking guns to school. Gun locks are inexpensive but highly effective and they keep kids safe. Simply put- safe storage saves lives.”
Safe Storage is not just something parents must practice in their own homes, it’s also something they must consider when their children are in other people’s houses. Programs like ASK (Asking Saves Kids) by the Brady Campaign encourage parents to always ask their children’s friends’ parents about responsible firearms storage before playdates and sleepovers. Every year, there are incidents where a child goes to a friend’s house to play and ends up injured or worse because of a loaded and accessible gun.
Tennessee is currently ranked 9th in the nation for accidental shootings. So far, The Safe Tennessee Project has tracked 17 incidents with adults, including 12 injuries and 5 deaths and 20 incidents involving children 18 and under, including 12 injuries and 8 deaths.
The average age of Tennessee children accidentally killed in 2015 is 11. The average age of children injured is 11.75.
“The majority of gun owners choose to have guns in their homes to keep their families safe,” said Roth. “Wanting to protect your family is an instinct that all parents understand. But, when guns are not locked away from children, the entire family is at risk for a terrible and fully preventable tragedy. Why take that chance? When it comes to trusting that your child won’t touch your gun, are you really willing to bet their life that they won’t?”
2015 ACCIDENTAL SHOOTINGS INVOLVING CHILDREN – DEATHS
October 2015 – Goodlettsville
A 5-year-old found a loaded gun and accidentally shot and killed himself. Authorities believe the fatal shooting was accidental and self-inflicted.
August 2015 – Murfreesboro
A 15-year-old popular football player was accidentally shot in the head at his home. He was life flighted and kept on life support. Four days later, he was declared brain dead.
August 2015 – Robertson County
The 15-year-old son of a Robertson County deputy was accidentally shot and killed. No word on who shot him, only that it was an accident. The boy’s father is the school resource officer at his high school.
June 2015 – Memphis
While his mother was at the store and his father was doing yard work, a 4-year-old found his father’s loaded gun and shot and killed himself with it.
April 2015 – Memphis
Two seniors were playing with a gun on senior skip day. The guns accidentally discharged, killing one of the teens. The shooter has been charged with reckless homicide.
March 2015 – Nashville
2-year-old child killed in Madison apartment. Investigation is ongoing but it is likely the child fired the gun himself. No charges have been filed.
March 2015 – Nashville
An 11-year-old little boy and a 15-year-old boy were playing with a gun when the 11-year-old accidentally shot and killed the 15-year-old.
February 2015 – Morgan County
A 15-year-old was at home with family when he removed a gun out of the family’s gun safe. The gun fired, killing the boy.
ACCIDENTAL SHOOTINGS INVOLVING CHILDREN – INJURIES
October 2015 – Zionville NC
A 13-year-old Tennessee boy was accidentally shot by another 13-year-old Tennessee boy in Zionville, NC, on the state line of North Carolina and Tennessee. The boy sustained a shotgun blast to the abdomen and was airlifted to Johnson City. No word on condition or how the boys had access to the gun.
August 2015 – Greeneville
In Greeneville, a 17-year-old practicing his “quick draw skills” accidentally shot himself in the leg. The teenager told deputies that he forgot to unload the revolver “and while drawing the weapon it discharged. The bullet struck his right leg just above the ankle. His injuries were minor.
August 2015 – Chattanooga
A developmentally disabled 13-year-old accidentally shot himself in the arm with a loaded gun he found in his home. Police found a total of three handguns including a 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber gun which were loaded. One of the guns was stolen.
July 2015 – Nashville
A 10-year-old boy was accidentally shot in the chest by another child at a Nashville motel. Three boys were playing with a cap gun and a .22 caliber when the shooting occurred.
July 2015 – Tullahoma
A 12-year-old boy was accidentally shot with a .243 rifle by another juvenile. He was airlifted to Vanderbilt. He is expected to survive.
May 2015 – Memphis
Two teens in Memphis were playing with the hammer of a revolver in one of their apartments when the gun fired, shooting one of them in the thigh. The victim was last reported to be in stable condition. The shooter was charged with reckless endangerment. No charges have been filed against the adult(s) who allowed the revolver to be in the possession of the teens.
May 2015 – Hickman County
The 14-year-old daughter of a Sheriff’s deputy, described as being well acquainted with firearms, was accidentally shot with one of her father’s personal guns. Her injuries required surgery.
March 2015 – Nashville
During an argument, a woman fired shots into the ground. One of the shot ricocheted and struck an 11-year-old boy, injuring him. He was last reported to be in stable condition.
March 2015 – Blount County
In Alcoa, a 14-year-old girl mistook a loaded pistol for a BB gun and fired it at a 17-year-old, injuring him. The two teens were at the home of a Blount County sheriff’s department officer. No charges have been filed.
March 2015 – Coffee County
A 3 year old little boy found a loaded gun and shot his 18 month old brother in the head.
February 2015 – Springfield
An 18 year old sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He originally told police he had been shot but later admitted he’d accidentally shot himself.
January 2015 – Lebanon
Two high school sophomores playing with a gun at one of the boys’ houses. The gun was discharged, shattering the femur of one of the boys.