IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Government statistics released this week claiming
that 77 minors in the U.S. were killed by unintentional gun discharges
last year significantly understate the scope of an enduring public health
A review of
shootings nationwide by The Associated Press and USA TODAY Network found
that at least 141 deaths of minors were attributed to unintentional or
accidental shootings in 2015 — 83 percent higher than what the Centers for
Disease Control reported.
stricter laws and new technology meant to keep guns away from children
argue that many of the deaths are preventable, and the undercount is
significant because it can skew the public policy debate. Lobbyists for
the firearms industry, including the National Rifle Association, cite the
CDC statistics to argue that such deaths are so rare that voluntary
education — not additional laws or regulations — are needed.
have acknowledged that their statistics are low because they rely on how
coroners classify the fatalities on death certificates. Some coroners rule
deaths in which one child unintentionally shoots another as a homicide —
rather than an accidental discharge — because they fit the definition of
being killed by another. They also can classify them as undetermined if
the intent is unclear — for example, if it's not certain whether a minor
committed suicide or accidentally shot himself.
AP and USA TODAY
Network counted fatal shootings that were declared accidental or
unintentional by investigating agencies. The media organizations' review
did not include deaths where guns were fired on purpose, such as cases of
stray bullets or celebratory gunfire.
for 2015 is in line with, but more significant than, the one observed for
2014, when the CDC missed one-third of the 113 deaths documented by the
The CDC data,
released Thursday, does track a trend identified in the media
organizations' review in which deaths of all minors are most common among
3-year-olds, who typically pick up unsecured, loaded guns in their homes
and fire back at themselves. The data also shows another spike in deaths
among 15- to 17-year-olds, who are more likely to be shot by another teen
playing with a gun.
former director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and
Control, said he believes the nation could eliminate all unintentional gun
deaths involving children. He said "it's crazy" the government isn't doing
more research into how to prevent them, in part because of a 1996 law that
declared the CDC cannot use research funding to advocate or promote gun
"I think people
30 years from now are going to look back at this time and say, 'My God,
how did we, as parents, as a nation, tolerate these deaths? These shooting
deaths where a toddler kills a sibling or where a child is gunned down by
a gun that they found in their home — how did we ever put up with that?'"
Rosenberg said. "We use the word 'accident' and lull ourselves into this
deadly complacency that says, 'This is just the cost of having firearms in
our country'. It's not."
accurate data is needed to persuade lawmakers and firearm owners to make
changes, for instance to adopt smart gun technology that would only allow
the owner to fire the weapon.
The NRA plans to
comment after reviewing the data, a spokeswoman said. The group argues
that its Eddie Eagle gun safety program, which tells students not to pick
up any guns they see, has helped reduce unintentional shootings.
senior research manager for Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group
founded by Michael Bloomberg, said the problem of inadequate data about
gun violence goes far beyond unintentional shootings. For example, she
said the government can't say how many people are injured by guns or how
many women are shot to death by their dating partners.
data have led to lifesaving advances in other public health issues like
traffic safety, tobacco use, and lead exposure," she said. "Gun violence
deserves the same."