How often do unsafe guns kill children? The Michigan Report Has an Answer

by Carol Thompson | Detroit News

DETROIT — The deadly shooting at Oxford High School sheds light on a simple remedy experts say could keep kids from reaching for a weapon: locking them in.

The state’s counsel for the children said at least 20 lives could have been saved in Michigan in the past 18 months.

“Child deaths due to unsafe firearms can be prevented,” said Susanna Shkreli, director of the Michigan Office of Children’s Ombudsman, which last year produced a special report about fatal encounters of children with firearms, including unsafe firearms. A spike was seen in fatal shootings involving guns. “Ensuring that your firearms are safe and inaccessible to children is a simple and reasonable step to take to protect your children.”

In May, Ombudsman investigators took a comprehensive look at reports they found that children killed by guns were left open and easy to access. They focused on a case involving a Wayne County child who was gunned down with an unsafe gun on October 30, 2020.

That night, a girl was shot and killed inside a home in Detroit, west of downtown; According to police, two other children were also present during the incident but there was no adult.

“If we learn anything from this, we hope that if you know you have kids, kids, put your weapon in the house, put it off,” Detroit Police Capt. Lashana Potts said at the time. “And adults do exist.”

Ombudsman investigators found that 10 other children had died from improperly stored guns between June 2020 and April 2021. Five were shot while playing, four were teenagers who died by suicide and one involved a young man who was shot in public by an unidentified person.

Shkreli said the ombudsman has since received additional reports showing a total of 20 children in about 18 months.

But it is hard to get a complete picture of the role unsafe guns play in childhood mortality in Michigan. The Ombudsman’s count of 20 children killed in 18 months is incomplete, as the office only reviews the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system, such as children who live in foster homes, hence the role of unsafe guns in child deaths. Its understanding is limited.

While state and federal health agencies track gun-related deaths, they do not track how the guns involved were acquired by the shooters.

Research indicates that improper storage is common in homes with both children and firearms, said Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency medicine physician and director of the University of Michigan’s Injury Prevention Center.

He pointed to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2000, which found that American parents do not consistently turn down guns. Researchers reviewed the results of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey from 1994 and 2000 and found that many children have guns in their homes.

Specifically, they found:

– 35% of households with children under the age of 18 are reported to have at least one firearm.

– Of those households, 43% had at least one uncovered firearm. Firearms unlocked and loaded in 9%. They were unlocked, unloaded but stored with ammunition in 4%.

– Of those households, 39% kept firearms unloaded, unloaded, and separate from ammunition.

As an emergency medicine doctor, Carter became interested in preventing violence. Preventing children from taking up arms is an important strategy, he said, especially in times of high stress or when a child is experiencing depression.

“If you look at the things that we can do before the event, I think some of those things are even more promising,” Carter said, “such as linking at-risk children to behavioral intervention programs.” . “They keep us from getting to the point where something (shooting or suicide) happens. Locked storage is definitely one of them. You stop a kid who’s in distress and get him access to a gun.” can be stopped.”

Carter said gun violence is a leading cause of death among American children and teens. It is important to store guns safely to prevent further deaths.

Steve Dulan, vice chairman of the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners, said gun owners are increasingly using gun safes at home, because safes are inexpensive and readily available. He compares safes to other everyday security measures, like childproof cutlery drawers.

Dulan does not support laws that would require specific storage techniques, however, arguing that they would not actually motivate more people to own guns.

“Locking is a good idea,” he said. “We are not in favor of making it a law.”

Dulan also argued that it is inconsistent to associate fatal shootings among teenagers with children who accidentally use guns to injure themselves or someone else.

In 2020, 84 Michigan children and teens up to 18 years old were killed by a firearm, according to data provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Statistics show that between 2010 and 2020, 799 Michigan children and teens in that age group were killed in gun-related incidents.

The department does not track whether the guns used in those cases were switched off prior to shooting or how the shooter accessed the weapon.

While homicides and suicides represent the overwhelming majority of gun-related deaths of children and teens in Michigan and nationwide, based on Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and US Centers for Disease Control data, unintentional shootings among children .

The News reported in December that 2-year-old Detroit was hospitalized after an unsecured gun was found at his home. After this incident last year children in Metro Detroit unintentionally shot themselves with unsafe guns.

Those children included a 4-year-old in Detroit, a 5-year-old boy in Detroit, and a 3-year-old boy from Roseville.

Unintentional shootings of children happen all over the state. In August, a child unintentionally shot and killed a 5-year-old in Calcaska County, 9 and 10 News reported. Wood-TV reported that a 4-year-old boy died in May in Ottawa County after he was unintentionally shot with a pellet gun.

U-M’s Carter said, “We need, as a society at large, to focus on this and find evidence-based ways we can use these across the spectrum, school shootings, suicides, homicides, unintentional firearms.” Injuries can be prevented.” “What can we do on a large scale that we know works?”

Carter said school shootings also represented a small portion of shootings, but they are “horrific incidents that often involve more than one person” and are often done with guns that were unlocked.

In 2019, the US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center released an analysis of 41 incidents of school violence targeted at US K-12 schools from 2008-17. Their analysis included incidents in which current or recent students intentionally used a weapon to injure or kill at least one other student and/or school employee at the school in planned attacks.

In about half of the shootings, the Secret Service found that the gun used was “either easily accessible, or it was not secured in a meaningful way,” and 76% of the attackers used weapons found at home or a relative’s home. Did.

It is unclear whether 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, the accused Oxford high school shooter, had open access to weapons officers, saying he killed four classmates on November 30 and injured six others and a teacher.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said the gun was kept in an unlocked drawer at his home. Lawyers representing his parents, who are also facing charges related to the shooting, say the gun was set off.

In their review of children’s shooting deaths, Ombudsman investigators recommended the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services create a handbook for child welfare workers to distribute to parents.