Unintentional shootings by children increased 43 percent in March and April as kids are confined to at-home learning due to COVID-19 school closures, according to troubling new data analyzed by advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.
With March and April seeing historically high gun sales as well as children experiencing boredom and isolation while quarantined inside of their homes, gun safety advocates are concerned that this is leading children to find unsecured guns within their families’ homes. In March and April, accidental shootings by children under 17 resulted in 21 deaths, as compared to an average of 15 deaths for the same period between 2017 and 2019, says Sarah Burd-Sharps, research director for Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.
“Adults can’t count on children to ‘know better’ and not touch firearms,” Burd-Sharps said. “It’s always a parent’s responsibility to keep guns out of the reach of children and teens, especially as more young people are home during the quarantine.” She later added that the group is “seriously concerned with how this influx of guns will increase safety risks for children and teens.”
Shannon Watts, founder of Everytown’s anti-gun violence volunteer network Moms Demand Action, also confirmed that the data shows that child shootings coincides with the increase in gun sales.
“We know that there are risks to having guns in the home, and with the surge in gun sales in the last two months, it could create more opportunity for kids to gain access to guns and unintentionally hurt themselves or someone else. The numbers show there’s been an increase in these horrible shooting tragedies during the time the pandemic was at its peak.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation revealed that the amount of background checks increased significantly to more than 2.3 million in March, an increase of 80 percent from March 2019. April’s background checks for firearm sales also increased by nearly 70 percent to 1.6 million compared to the same month last year, according to the trade association.
In the United States, approximately 350 children under the age of 17 gain access to guns and unintentionally kill or harm themselves or someone else, according to Everytown. Almost 77 percent of these incidents happen inside their homes.
Everytown has reviewed recent cases of children who have unintentionally killed themselves or others, one of which being the case of a seven-year-old boy in Denver who accidentally killed his three-year-old sister in their home as the two played “swords.” According to the Associated Press, while the three-year-old girl used a broomstick, her brother retrieved a .12 gauge shotgun that his mother had left next to a couch, fatally striking the toddler in the chest.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says the safest way to ensure that children do not unintentionally harm themselves or others with guns is to rid the home of weapons completely. However, if guns are to be inside the home, they should be locked away with ammunition stored in a separate location to decrease the chance of a child getting a hold of the weapon.