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More U.S. children killed in accidental shootings than you might think

This article is part of an occasional series exploring various communities involved in gun issues, including gun-rights advocates, gun-control advocates, and others interested in gun-violence prevention. This coverage is made possible by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.

At least 100 children aged 14 and under were killed in unintentional shootings in the United States during the 12 months that followed the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, according to a report published Wednesday by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

That’s almost two children each week — and a number that is significantly higher than the one reflected in federal statistics.

According to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 62 children aged 14 and under die each year in the United States as the result of unintentional shootings.

The CDC number was tragic enough. It already meant that U.S. children are 16 times more likely to be unintentionally shot to death than children in other high-income countries.

But this new study demonstrates that American children are at even greater risk. And it also suggests that parents and other adults who keep guns in their homes are in considerable denial about that risk.

Heartbreaking stories

Everytown for Gun Safety

For the study, researchers analyzed publicly reported unintentional child gun deaths involving a child aged 14 and younger from Dec. 15, 2012, to Dec. 14, 2013.

“Whenever possible we identified how the shooter got the gun; where the fatal gunshot occurred; who pulled the trigger; whether the gun was legally owned; and whether criminal charges were brought after the deaths,” the authors of the report write. “In cases where information was not specified in public accounts or an investigation was ongoing, we contacted local officials to learn further details.”

They identified 100 unintentional child gun deaths in 35 states. (Minnesota was not among them.) The researchers believe, however, that the actual total was likely even higher, for child gun deaths are often misclassified as intentional homicides rather than accidental shootings.

Each individual story is heartbreaking. Here are a few:

Harrison, Tennessee, December 20, 2012  Less than a week before Christmas, two-year-old Brennan Nowell was visiting the home of his grandfather, Stan Nowell, a pastor and missionary who established an organization called Forgotten Child Ministries to help street children in Honduras. Stan Nowell owned a .40 caliber pistol, which he had left unattended on a chair. Brennan discovered the gun and accidentally shot himself; he died in the hospital later that night.

Conway, South Carolina, December 25, 2012  After burglars attempted to break into his family’s house while the family was home, Rondell Smith purchased a .38-caliber handgun to defend his family. Two weeks later, he set the gun down on the family’s living room table and turned to make a phone call. Just hours after enjoying a Christmas dinner of chicken and macaroni and cheese, Smith’s two-year-old son, Sincere, picked the loaded gun up off the table. Within seconds, Sincere had pulled the trigger, firing a single shot that tore through his chest. He died on the way to the hospital.

Breckenridge, Missouri, January 12, 2013  On a Friday evening, Kathy Curtis and her husband left home to run errands, leaving their 12-year-old son Steven at home with a friend and his 13- and 16-year-old siblings. Steven’s mother described him as an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt, and who had a hunter’s safety certification. Nevertheless, while the other children were in a bedroom watching a movie, Steven got into a locked gun safe in the family’s living room and removed a handgun. Investigators later concluded that Steven mishandled the gun in the hallway, accidentally shooting himself.

Parent denial

These and the other stories in the report underscore one of the key findings of the study: Most of the unintended deaths — 65 percent — occurred in a home or vehicle belonging to the child victim’s family. Another 19 percent took place in the home of a relative or friend of the child.

And this is where adult gun-owners — particularly those who have children living or visiting their home — need to understand just how much danger they are placing children in when they have guns in their home. For parents either 1) overestimate their child’s maturity and gun-safety knowledge and skills, or 2) underestimate the extent to which their child knows where guns are kept in the house — and how to access those guns.

“A Harvard survey of children in gun-owning households found that more than 70 percent of children under age 10 knew where their parents stored their guns — even where they were hidden — and 36 percent of the children reported handling the weapons,” the report notes. “Thirty-nine percent of parents who thought their child was unaware of the location of the household’s gun were contradicted by their children, and one of every five parents who believed their child had not handled the gun was mistaken.”

Some 70 percent of the shooting deaths uncovered in this report could have been prevented if the guns had been unloaded and locked away in a place separate from where the ammunition is kept.

Yet, all too often, as this report points out, adults fail to take those simple safety measures. Currently, one-third of American children live in homes with firearms, and 43 percent of those homes contain at least one unlocked firearm.

Overall, 13 percent of U.S. homes contain at least one loaded gun or a gun that is unloaded but stored with ammunition.


The report makes several recommendations for preventing children from becoming the victim of an unintentional shooting:

  • States should adopt stronger laws to prevent children from accessing unsecured guns, by authorizing criminal charges if an adult gun owner stores his or her gun negligently, a child gains access to the firearm, and harm results. [In Minnesota, it is a gross misdemeanor to negligently store or leave a loaded gun where a child under the age of 18 is likely to gain access to it.]
  • Congress should appropriate funds for research to improve public health surveillance of unintentional child gun deaths and to develop effective educational materials for promoting safe storage. [As I have pointed out here before, Congress cut off CDC’s funding for gun-violence research back in 1996 after a study showed that having a gun in the home was much more likely to harm than protect a family member.]
  • Congress should earmark funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to evaluate and set standards for emerging technologies that promote gun safety, such as biometric gun safes.
  • Doctors should be allowed and encouraged to promote gun safety, and efforts to gag physicians should be opposed. [In 2011, Florida passed a law that prohibited doctors from discussing guns and their risk to children with patients. A federal court struck down the law for interfering with doctors’ free speech, but the state appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. A decision is expected soon. Many physician organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians, recommend that doctors discuss the risk of gun injuries and how to prevent them with their patients. Indeed, research has shown that parents who are counseled by their pediatricians about safe gun-storage practices are more likely to adopt those practices. The gun lobby has opposed such counseling, however, and wants more states to adopt laws like the one passed in Florida. Several states have such laws pending.]
  • Greater awareness of the issue should be promoted through a national public education campaign enlisting law enforcement, corporate, and nonprofit partners.
Everytown for Gun Safety

You can download and read the new report, “Innocents Lost: A Year of Unintentional Child Gun Deaths,” at the Everytown for Gun Safety website. The group is a coalition that includes Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Launched earlier this year, it is funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/26/2014 - 09:29 am.

    And for those of you who want to have fun with maps

    This is the CDC mapping site for injuries. You might be surprised where the highest rate of injury is.

    The generic web for mapping is this address:

    Have fun playing.

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 06/26/2014 - 11:11 am.

    Gun owners

    It’s too bad responsible gun owners align themselves with irresponsible owners and pass these silly laws and don’t allow 100% background checks when guns are purchased.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 06/26/2014 - 03:24 pm.

      Background checks

      Unfortunately, this article has little to nothing to do with what background checks could do. As far as I know, there’s no database for stupid.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 06/26/2014 - 06:18 pm.

      They’re all Responsible gun owners..

      …until they’re not. The Gun Manufacturers Lobbying Wing (NRA) will stand behind these folks 100%, until the very second that gun discharges and that child’s tiny head explodes, then, that second, that person became an irresponsible gun owner.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/26/2014 - 12:01 pm.

    Whenever the pro-gun lobbyists silence or deny information about the number of accidental child deaths by gun and gun suicides, we know that the facts of the existence of those deaths contradict a lot of pro-gun ideology. It’s important to keep the figures both updated, and before the larger public, to inform debate among those willing to think about gun violence.

  4. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/26/2014 - 01:07 pm.

    These figures are quite sobering. Basically, 80% of accidental gun deaths occur in someone’s home, with handguns obviously being the worst offender by weapon type.

    As a parent of a small child, this has to be first and foremost on my mind whenever my child wants to play at someone else’s house. Just another item on the list of things to have to ask parents about, and one that I hope (but am not hopeful) won’t offend any parent who does have guns in the home… as my kid will NOT be playing there. 80%. Sheesh.

  5. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/26/2014 - 04:03 pm.


    According to the CDC, more children die each and every year in swimming pool accidents than by firearms.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/26/2014 - 04:54 pm.


      According to the CDC, about 4000 people a year die from drowning (average between 1999-2010). I don’t know what the breakdown is for pools vs natural bodies of water. Unintentional drowning is apparently the leading cause of accidental death worldwide.

      In 2010 alone, there are 30470 gun-related deaths, the majority being suicide, and over 11,000 were murders.
      (Reference #5)

      • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/26/2014 - 07:34 pm.


        This story is about child deaths by firearms. The fact remains that more children 14 and under die every year in pool accidents than firearms deaths. When it comes to the media, they don’t cover a more common source of childhood deaths, be they pool drownings or vehicle accidents, the way they cover deaths by firearms. I don’t want to see any childhood deaths. However, the coverage of childhood firearm deaths is disproportionate to the actual occurrences.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 08:43 am.

          This story IS about child deaths by firearms. You brought up the ‘pools are more dangerous than guns’ obfuscation. And do you have any evidence whatsoever that the ‘media’ doesn’t cover child deaths by drowning in the same proportion as child deaths by gun? Any?

          • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 10:08 am.

            You expanded the conversation by citing total drownings vs. gun deaths in your previous post. The story is about child deaths by firearms. I never said pools are more dangerous than guns, you did. Please don’t make things up.

            No, I can’t cite specific studies for you. If you have evidence to the contrary, please feel free to present it. What I will say is over the past few months the media is saturated with Naval Shipyard, Fort Hood, Portland Oregon High School, Santa Barbara, Waseca, MN, plot/shooting coverage to name just a few. Every week NBC and CBS cover the number of shootings that occur the previous weekend in Chicago. I don’t see any articles about the drowning statistics of the previous weekend.

            • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 11:17 am.

              You never _specifically_ stated that pools were more dangerous than guns… you just stated that more children of a certain age die in pools than die by guns in the comment thread of an article about child death rates, thus I ASSUMED you were inferring that pools are more dangerous than guns. Since that is apparently NOT what you were trying to say, I guess I just don’t get your point.

              As to cites… this gets back to points I’ve made here before, relating to the (often, not always) conservative commentators on the site who routinely post assertions that cannot be verified by any objective method, but state it is being certifiable truth. The burden of proof should be on the person making the claim, but when you or other posters do that, you’re abdicating responsibility for the claim, and then put on other people the burden of doing that research for you.

              To your references above, those are all mass-murder stories, not isolated gun deaths. In the context of ‘pool vs gun’ deaths, I would imagine that if someone murdered 20 children by forcibly drowning them in a pool, that would get some pretty sensational coverage.

    • Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 06/26/2014 - 05:04 pm.

      No Concern

      So this means that gun deaths are of no concern?

      • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/26/2014 - 06:58 pm.

        No Concern?

        No. It means the coverage of child firearm deaths is disproportionate to the rate of childhood deaths by other means.

        • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/26/2014 - 07:38 pm.


          That’s an interesting assertion. Do you know of any research that would support it?

          Has anyone looked at ‘Strib files to see if their coverage of firearms deaths of children is significantly greater than their coverage of, say, drownings, or falls? A less obvious, but perhaps just as pertinent, connection might be to auto crashes – do children’s deaths in auto crashes get significantly less media attention than firearms deaths?

          Local television news almost always emphasizes the sensational, and follow-up is almost unheard-of, so a child’s death by almost any means will often get prominent coverage – for a news cycle – and then the story disappears, but print media are often perceived to be more fact-based, which is why I mention the ‘Strib.

          • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 10:11 am.


            No, I don’t have any studies to cite. My observations are that I read and see a lot more coverage regarding child deaths by firearms than by drownings which doesn’t track with the level of occurrences with each. Again, if I’m wrong, please feel free to produce evidence to the contrary.

            • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 11:23 am.


              If most of your observations are made online, please know that most news sites and websites store metadata on you in order to serve you information that you are more likely to read. I would assume that you read and search a lot of gun-related sites and stories, which in turn means that aggregate sites like google news try to predict your behavior and send you links you are likely to read.

              • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 12:10 pm.


                I’m well aware of how metadata works. I largely do my own research. Most of my data on firearm deaths comes from PEW Research, the CDC, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security among others.

    • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 06/27/2014 - 11:07 am.

      24% more US kids killed by guns than in swimming pools in 2011

      397 v 320, per CDC data from Wisqars, for ages 0-14.

      [Tried to post an image of the query output, but Minnpost must have spam filters which reject certain links.]

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/26/2014 - 08:34 pm.

    Some CDC numbers

    First, we’ve got to decide what age group we’re looking at. Since the article mentions children under 10, I’ve selected the 5-9 year age group from the CDC’s matrix.
    The top ten causes of death in the United States in this age group are:

    Unintentional Injury 758
    Malignant Neoplasms 439
    Congenital Anomalies 163
    Homicide 111
    Heart Disease 68
    Chronic Low Respiratory Disease 60
    Cerebro-vascular 47
    Benign Neoplasms 37
    Influenza & Pneumonia 37
    Septicemia 32

    So accidents are by far the biggest cause of death, followed by cancer.
    Homicide is 4th, followed by various medical causes.
    The point is that almost all gun deaths are avoidable. Even the few individuals who have an occupational need for firearms should store them safely (it is possible, even if the evidence cited shows that most gun owners don’t).
    While it is true that deaths by drowning are about ten times as likely, swimming is a normal and healthy childhood activity (and not all drowning deaths are due to recreational swimming accidents). Guns are a different matter. Even if you posit that hunting is a normal childhood experience, this does not require that guns be kept in a home.
    Suicide doesn’t make the top ten until children are over ten years of age.
    And I will agree that most drowning deaths are also avoidable.

    • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/26/2014 - 09:14 pm.

      Thank You

      First, thank you for supporting my position, more children die by drowning than firearms. The article sites the CDC numbers as 14 and under.

      You and I also agree that pool deaths, like firearm deaths, are mostly avoidable. However, you place different value judgements when it comes to pools vs. firearms. Your bias says, “swimming is a normal and healthy childhood activity.” You say guns “are a different matter”. Your ignorance regarding the shooting sports leads you to stereotyping, profiling, and discounting those that don’t share your viewpoint. I assume you did not grow up around firearms and the shooting sports as I have. The shooting sports are a normal and healthy childhood activity for millions of Americans. What makes it less valid than swimming? Both can be dangerous and deadly. My father was an expert marksman in the military and taught me firearm safety and shooting at a very young age. I went on to participate in the DNR Firearm Safety course, continue to train to this day and have enjoyed the shooting sports my entire life. I also introduced my children to the shooting sports at a young age. We are all responsible firearm owners.

      It’s already illegal to allow a minor unsupervised access to a firearm. The very few that do are in violation of the law and should be prosecuted.

      You claim that the shooting sports don’t “require that guns be kept at home”. Well, swimming doesn’t require a swimming pool be in your backyard either.

      Thank you again for the discourse.

  7. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 06/27/2014 - 08:30 am.

    24% more US kids killed by guns than in swimming pools in 2011

    In 2011, 397 US children under the age of 15 were killed by firearms, compared to 320 who drowned in swimming pools.

    • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 10:18 am.


      Your data only shows drownings for children under the age of 1. Your gun fatality data includes all children under the age of 14.

  8. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 09:24 am.

    Positions vs Facts

    That more children die from drowning vs being shot isn’t really a position, it’s a fact, which no-one is denying. But your position is ‘guns are safer than pools,’ correct?

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 09:33 am.

      Sorry, I meant to post that under Mr Vick’s ‘Thank You’ comment.

    • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 09:51 am.


      No, my position is simply to add context to the conversation. Guns receive a disproportionate amount of coverage by the media when compared to other causes of childhood deaths.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 06/27/2014 - 10:53 am.


        I will ask again, do you have any evidence that guns get disproportionate media coverage when they kill children?

        • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 06/27/2014 - 11:32 am.


          Simply my observations. If you have evidence to the contrary, please let me see it. Regardless, you’re diverting attention from the point. The point is, children die by a variety of means many of which are avoidable and outpace gun deaths. I’m asking for perspective on the issue.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 06/27/2014 - 12:44 pm.

            Here’s my perspective

            as a fellow gun owner I don’t want some three year old kid blowing his sister away because he got hold of daddy’s gun, Complaining that it’s unfair to point those situations out when they occur does nothing to help your cause. There’s a visceral reaction when a kid is killed, either by a gun or a swimming pool drain, but frankly, the only people I see attempting to brush it off are a paranoid faction of gun owners that think any new regulation whatsoever is the first step to confiscation.

          • Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 06/27/2014 - 01:17 pm.

            Guns are the 3rd biggest killer of US kids ages 3-17

            “children die by a variety of means many of which are avoidable and outpace gun deaths”

            From 1999-2011, there were precisely two means by which US kids died more often than by guns:

            1) motor vehicles (48,892)
            2) cancer (20,316)

            Guns were a close 3rd at 18,532.

            By comparison, 2,203 drowned in pools.

            The first year of life is very dangerous for children because of things like congenital anomalies and problems associated with the pregnancy. Overall death rates for kids under 1 are 15x higher than for 1-year-olds and only get eclipsed by people 56 and older. This is why mixing infant mortality data with other children misrepresents the primary causes of death.

  9. Submitted by Jon Eggleston on 06/27/2014 - 04:03 pm.

    Perhaps some critical thinking is in order

    The topic is unintentional gun deaths among children. I notice that all the “heartbreaking” anecdotes are about children picking up unattended guns and shooting them. Equally heartbreaking are those instances of children being killed unintentionally by people actively engaged in shooting at other people in or near the child’s home, a large majority of which are occasioned by participation in the prohibited drug trade or in related disputes. Let’s be clear about the difference between unintentional deaths and accidental deaths in the narrow range of circumstances we are being led to imagine. If you really want to reduce gun violence, and not just further your chosen cause of gun control laws regardless of their effectiveness, you might support ending the war on drugs, which sponsors and maintains an irresistably profitable black market costing thousands of lives here and abroad.
    If you don’t understand why CDC “research” on gun violence as a public health issue is objectionable, you should perhaps do a little research of your own.
    If you think the NRA is a puppet of the gun industry, perhaps you should investigate the sources of their funding.
    If you don’t understand what the founders meant by the second amendment, and why it might still be important today, perhaps you should read some history (I would suggest the Federalist Papers as a start).

  10. Submitted by Mary Ann Hecht on 06/27/2014 - 04:27 pm.


    It is interesting that the federal government – the National Transportation Safety Board – is an advocate for child safety in vehicles, including waterways, and yet the government has been directly prevented from gathering information about gun deaths much less doing something about it.
    We are moved to action by the drama of an event, such as the swimming pool drain tragedy, which resulted in safety legislation for pool installation, but even in the face of a Sandy Hook duplicated many times over, nothing happens.
    To be held hostage and prevented from addressing a problem, which we pride ourselves to be the American way of doing things, is a real tragedy, too.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/29/2014 - 02:59 pm.

    It’s really kind of disgusting.

    Sure, kids get killed in a lot of ways. One child gets disemboweled in ONE pool and it take less than a year to pass legislation trying to prevent it happening again. Sure led poisoning kills children, we pass lead abatement laws. Kids get killed in car accidents,we pass laws requiring safety seats. Kids get killed with guns and a group of gun owners with disproportionate influence start getting laws passed that prohibit us from even discussing the fact that kids are getting killed with guns. Where the gag order preventing doctors from discussing the dangers of pools? Where’s the gag order preventing doctors from talking about the dangers of lead poisoning?

    You want to compare pools to guns? THAT’s the comparison. And don’t tell us about the constitution because every single one off our constitutional rights has reasonable limits, from speech to Habeas Corpus.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/29/2014 - 03:07 pm.

    2nd amendment history

    “If you don’t understand what the founders meant by the second amendment, and why it might still be important today, perhaps you should read some history (I would suggest the Federalist Papers as a start).”

    Yes, if you actually study history rather than gun lobby propaganda you’ll find that the Second Amendment was about preserving the militias slave states needed to respond to slave rebellions. The first thing you notice is that none of the terms: “guns”, “firearms”, “muskets” etc. appear anywhere in the Amendment. It never had anything to with personal self defense, or individual gun ownership. And it most certainly did have anything to do with taking up arms against the government since that was explicitly defined as Treason in the US Constitution.

    I did a extensive examination of this issue while back. It’s long slog but its a complex issue.

  13. Submitted by jody rooney on 06/30/2014 - 10:11 am.

    Thank you fellow data nerds

    for digging through the data.

    Now for you unbelievers go to the website links above to the CDC and see what they say. Then go to the website for the FBI and see murder stats by choice of fire arm.

    As soon as we separate hand guns from other guns then we will make progress.

    The DNR could use more money how about that you have to have a large game license to have a hand gun?

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