The death of an 11-year-old boy in Houston late last week marked the seventh accidental child shooting in the region, 16th in the state and 161st in the nation, according to a database kept by Everytown For Gun Safety.
The organization, however, actually has named this database the #NotAnAccident Index, identifying all of these child shootings as preventable deaths or injuries, due primarily to the negligence of adults to properly store firearms and make sure they're unloaded.
The 11-year-old boy who died after being taken off life support had found the gun at his uncle's house on July 31 and shot himself in the neck while playing with it. Five days earlier, a seven-year-old in Alvin managed to unlock his grandfather's gun safe and shoot himself in the head. He was lucky to survive as the bullet entered his forehead and exited just before his hairline, missing his brain. And a little more than a week before that, a 16-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed her 19-year-old boyfriend while trying to set the safety lock on his new gun.
The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year, following the accidental shooting deaths of three kids in the month of January alone, that accidental shootings are the second leading cause of death for minors, next to car accidents. According to data from the Houston Forensic Science Center, of the 1,074 who suffered accidental deaths, roughly one in eight were shot to death. And according to Everytown For Gun Safety's data, Texas overall leads the country in these incidents as a whole. Florida and Georgia follow closely behind.
"It's an acute problem," said Alexandra Chasse, a spokeswoman for Everytown, "and when you look through the headlines that report these unintentional child shootings, one thing that strikes me is how often the word 'accidental' shows up, and that's a shame. Because we know that these shootings are almost always preventable. They are preventable acts. We see it as an event in which the adults surrounding the child and the community surrounding the child simply did not live up to their responsibility to keep firearms securely locked away, unloaded, so children can't access them."
Chasse said that, most commonly, kids find the guns in homes that are familiar to them. Many times, the gun is unsecured — but even if it is in a locked safe, as in the case of the seven-year-old Alvin boy's near-death encounter with one — Chasse said, many gun owners make the mistake of keeping it loaded when they have kids in the home.
"One common factor is the lack of awareness: It's basically a ticking time bomb to have a loaded handgun in a home where there are naturally curious young children and sometimes older children living in the home," Chasse said. "Sometimes there's this notion that it's a taboo to ask homeowners [at homes where their children often go] whether firearms they own are properly secured. But this is a question many people want to ask, and, more often than not, it's one many people are willing to answer."
As we reported last year, at a time when six Houston kids had been accidentally shot to death in a matter of five months — three of whom died in a matter of four days — these cases are infrequently prosecuted. According to the Houston Police Department, as of right now, no one faces any criminal charges, for negligence, in the death of the 11-year-old boy.
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