Guns Don’t Kill People. KIDS Kill People…

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In my TwitterFeed a couple of days ago was a link to a short article from Memphis entitled No charges after gun goes off in Tenn. school. It told of a gun that went off accidentally in a 5-year old’s school backpack, in the school’s cafeteria. As the title says, no charges were laid: apparently the gun was innocently taken from a closet in the kid’s home, no harm was intended and all seems to be just a big accident.

School Superintendent Dorsey Hopson stated the obvious that “It’s a sad day when we have a 5-year-old bringing a gun to school.”

On a sadness scale, however, that one is barely a blip in my view.

While this particular incident may be brushed aside as an “accident”, I disagree. To me a true accident is an event that (usually) does harm, but one that we are surprised by, that we didn’t see coming, that was not planned or expected, and, to my mind, an event that might well have been prevented with a normal amount of care and prudence.

If you live in America, then this “accident” fails on almost every level if you accept that definition.

Incidents like this no doubt happen often – I just happened to stumble upon this latest – in a country where gun ownership, responsible and otherwise, is in the country’s very DNA, where owning a gun seems to be not even a privilege, and not even a right, but almost a commandment from on high – after all the “founding fathers” ordained it right there in the Constitution, right?

But what damage has this stupid gun culture brought with it? Consider just a couple of facts easily gleaned by anyone:

  • A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.  (source:ABC News, 2012)
  • The number of Americans killed in guns deaths is far larger than the number of those killed in terrorist attacks around the world every year. In 2010, 13,186 people died in terrorist attacks worldwide; in that same year, in America alone, 31,672 people lost their lives in gun-related deaths. (source CNN, 2013)

Why aren’t more Americans aghast at this? Why do so many trot out the Second Amendment as if it still makes any sense?

Unsatisfying answers

I got a few answers this past May when my wife and I were on a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We chose the open seating option for dinners so that we could meet new people each night. That decision worked out very well.

I tell you this only because I wanted to relay the highlights of one of the more interesting dinner conversations. On that night we had, beside ourselves, a couple from Denmark, a couple form Tennessee and a single lady from Chicago.

I don’t recall how the conversation turned to guns and the NRA, but once it did I decided to push the envelope a bit (but respectfully!) to see if I could learn more about why Americans are so fervent when it comes to any notion of gun control. Try as I might, it was hard to get past pretty trite and very rote answers. “Because the right to bear arms is in the Constitution” or “Because the Founding Fathers put that into the Constitution” etc. are not very informative or illuminating responses. The gentleman from Tennessee told me that he owned many guns himself, in fact he had built guns himself, but neither he nor his wife could really tell me what was the true motivation, other than they could and therefore they should.

I persisted, pushing them to recognize that the world in 2013 was just a tad different than when the US was born almost a quarter of a millennium ago. After all, as I understand the second amendment, it is about protecting the existence a (well regulated) Militia, since that was seen as being necessary to the security of a free State.  This may be understandable in the late 1700’s, especially to a country born out of revolution, but isn’t that a bit of an out-dated notion?

They had no answer other than the stock ones above.

The really interesting part of the conversation came next when the single lady (I’d estimate in her early to mid- 40’s, just for context) told me that she has never owned a gun, likely will never own a gun, didn’t care to own a gun, BUT that she was a staunch and unyielding supporter of the Second Amendment just the same.

This piqued my interest and I asked her why.

“Because we have to be prepared to rise up against our government if they cross the line and start taking away our freedoms” was her answer.

“So you want to be armed as a civilian population to protect yourself from your own government?”

“Yes. Exactly. That’s why I support the Second Amendment so passionately.” Lots of nodding from the other Americans but a bit of head-scratching from the rest of us.

“So” I asked, “can you use your imagination and give me a single example of a kind of situation where you would think that the Government has crossed that line that would make you bear arms against it?”

She could not.

I pushed. “As a thought experiment, what would you do, if for example, the US Senate approved an egregiously oppressive tax bill that was unfair and punitive? Would you all get your guns and hunt down the Senators and shoot them? What exactly would having all these guns mean? What would you do with them?”

I still got no answer, other than “Well you just don’t understand. Your country is not a Republic”.

OK. that’s true. “So what rights and freedoms do you think you have under your republican democracy that I don’t have in Canada under a parliamentary democracy?”

They could not think of any.

But they just didn’t get the point that I have the pretty much the same rights and freedoms, maybe more in some cases, maybe less in others, but Canada and most other countries don’t feel the need to encourage our citizens to be armed to the teeth to protect those freedoms.

From ourselves it seems….

Frankly, I think this is a specious argument that to me makes no sense on the face of it, but has been trotted out by otherwise intelligent and normal people. By now the “from my cold, dead hand” mantra of the Charlton Hestons and his ilk has become so ingrained that the average American just can’t get past the emotional appeal of this nonsense and out-dated thinking.

So how do we fare in this inferior non-republic democracy called Canada?

As determined by Statistics Canada and reported in various sources (e.g. Canada firearm homicides at 50-year low) the number of homicides overall, and the number of homicides related to guns in Canada is of course far less than in the US, even after accounting for population size difference (approx. 10-fold). Not only are the numbers of  homicides far less, even proportionately, the numbers that are related to guns is ‘paltry’ by comparison to the USA.


  • 598 homicides in Canada in 2011 (source Statistic Canada as reported here)
  • 158 (26%) of those were related to firearms. That is 13 fewer than in 2010, in fact the lowest number in almost 50 years
  • 12,664 homicides in the USA in 2011 (source FBI data)
  • 8,583 (68%) of those related to firearms. And the vast majority of those murders were related to handguns (6,220)

Imagine that. Fewer handgun related murders in the entire country of Canada in 2011 (158) than in the city of Chicago alone in 2011 (362 handgun deaths out of 436 homicides in Chicago according to Chicago Police records). I pick Chicago only because that where my adamant dinner companion hailed from.

Kids are caught in the crossfire

But I have digressed. I want to return to the issue that got me angry in the first place, and that is the fact that too many kids are being caught up in the crossfire.

Not only are kids too often the victims of gun crimes, but even more shocking, and in numbers far greater than you might think, kids are the one doing the shooting. And I am not just talking about teenagers – like the shooting last week of baseball player Chris Lane of Australia, by 3 Oklahoma teenagers allegedly because they were bored and looking for something “fun” to do.

I am talking about little kids.

Just check out these two articles for a mind-boggling list of very young kids involved in accidental (there’s that word again!) shootings over the past months in the USA:

At least 9 toddlers were involved in accidental shootings in April, by Rania Khalek (May 2013)

This is a tragic yet all too familiar story, particularly in the month of April when it seemed as though a small child was accidentally shooting or getting shot every other day. What’s most frustrating is that these tragedies are totally preventable, if only families with children would just get rid of all their guns.

Toddlers killed more Americans than terrorists did this year, by Stacie Borrello (June 2013)y

Americans hate terrorists and love our kids, right? So you might be shocked to know that preschoolers with guns have taken more lives so far this year than the single U.S. terrorist attack, which claimed four lives in Boston.

But that must be rare, surely. Define rare in that case. As reported here by reporter Leslie Bentz (CNN)

According to the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 703 children under the age of 15 died in accidental firearms deaths between 2001 and 2010, the latest year for which the agency’s statistics on fatalities are available.

During the same period, 7,766 children under the age of 14 suffered accidental firearms injuries — about one injury for every million children.

Who’s to blame?

Dennis A. Henigan of the Brady Center asked, in Toddlers killing toddlers, with guns “When kids accidentally shoot kids, who is to blame?”

Who indeed?

The first culprit is the irresponsible gun owner who would leave a loaded gun accessible to children. In America, this behavior is shockingly common. According to one study, an estimated 2.6 million children live in homes where at least one gun is stored either unlocked and loaded, or unlocked with the ammunition in the same location as the gun. These guns are like ticking time bombs.

Let me point at least one other finger. When one of the stories of toddlers being killed broke last year – the one about the 5-year-old boy in Kentucky who accidentally (there’s that word again!) shot his 2-year-old sister – with a special rifle built and sold and bought just for kids, I was flabbergasted.

No, make that furious.

The rifle involved was made by Keystone Sporting Arms (KSA) who have a “special” hook into young kids with brand called “Crickett”, and are marketing them as “My First Rifle”.

Maybe this doesn’t bother you, but the marketing of rifles for little kids enrages me.

So does the marketing of accessories like the “story books” below (taken directly from their website).

 And if that wasn’t enough check out the images below from the story by Annie-Rose Strasser on the Kentucky 5 year-old/2 year-old shooting:  5-year-old boy killed sister with gun made for kids. She took these images directly from the “Kid’s Corner” section of the KSA website. These images were on the Crickett/KSA site in May 2013 when she wrote her article.

I looked for them today but could not find them on the website any longer. I guess the company is unabashed about what it is selling to whom, but perhaps the images inflamed too many parents and they at least took them down.


So, Superintendent Hopson in Memphis, if you think a 5 year old bringing a gun to school hidden in his backpack is “sad”, what the hell would you call KSA and its blatant marketing of rifles to toddlers and little kids? And what would you call the parents of those kids who buy the Cricketts and give them to their kids as presents?

And yet we still call these “accidents”.

But you know what might just be the saddest of all?

Consider the latest shooting earlier this week where a 3-year-old Michigan boy kills self with gun he finds in bedroom closet. Here was a 3 year old kid who shot himself, in the head, and did it with a gun (obviously loaded) that he found in his house. The gun was allegedly owned by a friend of that family who was visiting or staying in the boy’s house. You might think, well THAT’S just the saddest thing, but you’d be wrong.

The saddest thing was that the boy’s father, that is, the DEAD boy’s FATHER went on Facebook just HOURS after losing his son to say

Um, in case you missed that, he said

I have nothing wrong with guns it’s with this country was built on. I will still support the Second Amendment.

Now THAT’S not just sad. That’s stupid. And shameful. And criminal.

When are Americans going to wake up and smell the gunpowder?

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Guns Don’t Kill People. KIDS Kill People… — 19 Comments

  1. Good piece Michael. A few additional comments.
    Re the need to be armed to protect from government. None other than a supreme court justice expressed this thought recently (Scalia).

    All of the initiatives down here (Obama’s, Gabby Gifford’s) are basically polishing the brass on the Titanic because they focus on assault weapons, clip sizes etc. These are a start at least and were prompted by the mass killing tragedies. These were tragic but as you rightly note it’s the 30K plus deaths each year that are the significant ones (accidental shootings, homicides and suicides)and these are due to the presence of weapons in homes (public health studies-and statistically speaking you will be killed by someone you know).

    I would prefer weapons laws that are similar to those of the UK (more stringent than Canada’s) but that will never happen here. For comparison the death rates are (per 100K population) 2.38 in Canada, 0.25 in UK, 10.3 in US (latter range from 18.03 in Louisiana to 3.14 (just above Canada) in Massachusetts.

    Someone from the Giffords campaign called me the other day not too long after I saw an interview with Gabby and Hubby. During the piece they showed him target shooting with the same brand of pistol used on his wife while Gabby watched(to demonstrate their support for their constitutional rights!). How crazy is that? (needless to say I didn’t donate)

  2. David,

    Thanks for the comments. I agree completely. The FBI data clearly shows that it is handguns that are the leading cause of gun deaths. Based on that I could actually “support” the NRA if it was truly the National RIFLE Association and all they were lobbying for was rifles in the hands of true and responsible sportsmen. Personally I have never seen the appeal of hunting down and shooting a defenceless animal,but that’s me. I could support sport shooting etc.

    But when the NRA takes the blanket stand it does and wraps itself up in the flag, it just makes me want to puke.

  3. Well said and sad…After all our recent conversations with Americans regarding guns and gun ownership, I understand them less than I thought I did, and respect them less for putting a two hundred plus year document above the lives of innocent people and well above common sense.

    • Kathy-Good point about a 200 year old document because there’s a failure among many down here to understand the context (in the late 18th century) of the “right to bear arms” clause. The relevant bit of the second amendment is “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. There are two important terms “well regulated” and “militia”. Local militia groups were necessary at the time given the fact that there was not an army/police force available to all. Hardly the case these days unless you are a paranoid member of a “militia” group (or of the US supreme court)!

      • David,

        And it’s even worse than that. People now are interpreting the “security of a free state” to be, as we have discussed, a right to bear arms AGAINST the government, but I believe that the well regulated militia, in the terms of the Framers, was a militia to fight FOR the government, i.e against the English or whomever would be the next “enemy”. I don’t think it was ever intended to be interpreted the way it has been today, just to suit the whims of the NRA and all of those yahoos who drink the NRA kool-aid.

  4. I stumbled across your blog through Harpocrates and am quite pleased I looked into it further. I actually just read an article this morning about an 8 year old boy who shot and killed his grandmother and there are NO charges being filed against anyone. I agree that in child-relate gun incidents, the gun-owner (at least) should be held responsible to the greatest extent possible.
    I am American (and have even served in the Navy as has my husband), but I have an absolute strict stance on gun control. My husband asked about purchasing a gun and I absolutely refuse unless there is a validated reason (if he was in a law enforcement position or otherwise required it). It frustrates me that there are so many gun-toting republicans (and democrats to a lesser extent) trying to defend their right to carry concealed weapons. I was almost relieved when the gun control topic came up (albeit under devasting circumstances), though it seems that the support for reform for safety’s sake is fizzling out-
    I feel like an outlier. My children have never touched a gun and I even discourage gun-play. We refer to “waterpistols” or “waterguns” as water-lasers and we discuss the serious and finality of consequences that guns cause. While some see my tactics as extreme, I feel good that my children are knowledgeable to reality and respectful of LIFE.

  5. Meg,

    I do really wonder if you *are* an out-lier or not. I get the feeling that the majority of Americans are far more moderate in their views than the vocal ones as represented by the NRA etc. It seems to me, however, that the NRA are just SO powerful, that no one is willing to stand up to them and risk losing an election. It’s a real pity that the last legislation proposed (the one for simply extending background checks for cryin’ out loud!) was defeated. There is a dearth of moral leadership when the will of the people (by all accounts) is not respected by weasly politicians who fear more for their seat than for doing the right thing – AND the thing their constituents broadly want.


  6. I’m with you in that I think moderation on this issue has somehow flown the coop. How did that happen? Why is the slippery slope do damn slippery? I’m continuously stymied by the idea that our legislators continue to act in a way that seems contrary to what their constituents seem to want, yet they continue to get elected. Because according to the polls, most people do want some form of gun control. Excellent post!

  7. A gun is a weapon but it is not something that can automatically kill someone. It is the tool. What I do not understand is how parents can place this tool in a place where a child can get a hold of it. There is no definite answer against gun laws. It has to be education. 🙂

  8. It comes down to a few things about why some of us are staunch supporters of gun rights; we don’t know all the facts. But even when we know all the facts, there is still fear. Even if it is irrational or unstated fear, fear makes people dig in deeper.

    Valuable insights and worth the long read! LOL. Maybe people will start to loosen up and our politicians will hear us say, we do want some kind of stronger gun control. Honestly. But will they listen? Nah. They want the PAC money to get reelected.

    Over from LinkedIn group BHB

    • Thanks Patricia. From someone like me from outside the US, it is hard for so many of us in the rest of the world to understand, let alone appreciate, the intransigence of the US in dealing with this problem. You guys are too good and too smart to let this keep happening.

  9. Good article! I am not a gun owner and don’t anticipate that I ever will and while I understand that people want to hunt, etc. I almost always find that the basis for gun ownership comes down to the 2nd Amendment without real significant basis for need other than fear. Americans tend to point to violence and say “if we had a gun” as opposed to being comfortable saying “if we didn’t have so many guns”. We just refuse to acknowledge that guns in the hands of too many people perpetuate or create a violent state. There are so many differences in our country when the 2nd Amendment was written that it’s almost foolish to use it as a blanket justification but I am confident that the perception of this “right” will never change and there is no reasonable conversation to surround it with.

  10. This is an issue that has always left me stumped. What is the American preoccupation with guns all about? I thought perhaps it was because I’m Canadian, and that gun ownership was simply one of those things that differentiated us. However, I think there are many Americans who are just as unclear about why gun ownership is so tightly associated with rights or connected to this persistent fear of oppressive government. At this stage in their evolution, they should be well beyond that. But then, I’ve never been the subject of interest of an NRA campaign. I don’t think we can underestimate for a minute how effective and efficient their communications and public relations machinery is.

    In the face of overwhelming evidence that guns are dangerous, they don’t flinch and don’t back down. If anything, they come back stronger and more aggressively against any prohibitions. They are not alone either, as made plane by your content above. Guns are big business and as long as the industry is making good money, then the rhetoric around the “right” to own a gun will permeate the American psyche and will bring strong influence to bear on any politician who suggests that guns and freedom are not synonymous.

  11. As a parent I believe that gun control should begin with education. Guns do not kill but uneducated minors could. You must teach children that guns are not toys. Additionally the child needs to be of an age where they understand how to handle this tool.

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