July 2004

Downrange 07/04: Kids and Guns

Accidental gun deaths do claim childrenís lives, but they are much rarer than you might think. During 2000 there were 37 accidental gun deaths for children under 10 in the U.S. In 1999 there were 31, and only six of these cases actually involved a child firing the gun. From 1995 to 1999, the entire United States saw only between five and nine cases a year where a child under ten either accidentally shot themselves or another child.

With more than 90 million adults owning a gun and almost 40 million children under 10, it is hard to think of almost any other potentially dangerous products kept in American homes that have as few accidental deaths associated with them. Over 1,260 children under ten died in cars in 1999. Another 370 died as pedestrians hit by cars. Accidents involving residential fires took 484 childrenís lives. Even 92 children under the age of five drowned accidentally in bathtubs.

The overwhelming majority of gun owners must be extremely careful or such gun accidents would be much more frequent.

Those who accidentally fire a gun, a problem often involving children, are not typical people. Shooters are overwhelmingly adults who have problems with alcoholism and long criminal histories, particularly arrests for violent acts. They are also disproportionately involved in automobile crashes and are much more likely to have had their driverís license suspended or revoked.

The tragic but statistically small number of child-shooting events must be weighed against the good that guns do. Guns clearly deter criminals, with Americans using guns defensively more than 2 million times each year, 4.5 times more frequently than the 500,000 times guns were used to commit crimes in 2001. Over 90 percent of the time simply brandishing the weapon stops an attack.

Even if one has young children, it does not make sense to lock up a gun if one lives in a high-crime urban area. Exaggerating the risks involved in gun ownership will make people lock up their guns or cause them not to own a gun in the first place and will result in more deaths, not fewer deaths.

A compelling argument for this strategy can be found in John Lott Jr.ís book, "The Bias Against Guns." He examined juvenile accidental gun deaths and suicides for all the states in the United States from 1977 to 1998 and found that safe-storage laws had no impact on either type of death. However, what did happen was that law-abiding citizens were less able to defend themselves against crime.

-Todd Woodard