The terrible twos

According to a recent article in The Guardian, titled “Incidents of toddlers shooting others or themselves increasing, data shows,” by Michael Teague, twenty-three toddlers have shot themselves or others so far this year.  This is an increase from eighteen shot by this date last year.

As Teague puts it, “it’s difficult to sort out why the numbers are climbing, because the data is [sic] not being authoritatively compiled.”  This is meant as an attack on the funding limits put on the Centers for Disease Control for studying gun violence, but apparently the data are being collected with sufficient rigor to allow newspaper reporters to add them up.  He goes on to state that 170 children ages eleven and under have been either killed or injured by gunfire in 2016.  His source for this information, unfortunately, is a site called Gun Violence Archive that presents such cases with the caveat that “we must limit result sets for the general public. If you would like more information or the full result set, please send an email with your name, organization, project and needs.”

This requirement raises red flags for me, since claims being made to influence public policy are done in public view when they’re done honestly, but let’s say for the moment that all the numbers here are correct.  If we want to make things sound dire, we can say that this year’s numbers of toddlers shooting people so far are about a third higher than last year’s and be correct in the saying.  That sounds extreme until we remember that the numbers were eighteen and twenty-three.  Despite claims of gun control advocates to the contrary, it’s not heartless to observe that these are small numbers, especially when balanced against the some hundred million gun owners in this country.  When both figures are small, the difference between them looks huge.  And any changes from year to year can appear significant, again until we recall that fluctuations in data over time are expected.  A trend isn’t proved until we see a consistent direction in the numbers over a longer period.

However, even eighteen toddlers getting their hands on guns—either with or without supervision—is deplorable.  Children at this age are still learning the skill to handle tools and lack the emotional maturity to play well with others on their own.  In the same way that we don’t want them digging in cabinets and attempting electrical work with forks and outlets, leaving firearms within their reach is an act of gross negligence.  If you’re a gun owner, it’s your duty to keep them in places and manners that deny access to toddlers.  I hope that statement is obvious to anyone reading this, but even the obvious is good to review when the cost of failure is potentially so high.

Gun control advocates here leap to various answers—more research or more laws—but that’s something that we have to pause to consider.  Saying a toddler shouldn’t get ahold of a gun is a clear enough principle that passing a law to mandate it is either superfluous or pointless.  People who don’t comprehend this concept or won’t comply with it won’t be stopped by legal demands.  And as recent examples have illustrated, there comes an age at which at least some children can use firearms to good effect.

Given the safety record of gun owners—again, a hundred million of us, with accidents that make up a tiny percentage of that total—we have a good argument for saying that new laws aren’t warranted.  What is justified is for each of us to remind ourselves and our fellows not to harm innocents, not to allow others to do so, and to keep access to firearms by children limited only to age-appropriate uses.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of