Raising Voices: Lost Childhood Edition

Brandon Holt was shot to death by his 4-year-old neighbor.

Brandon Holt was shot to death by his 4-year-old neighbor.

Compared to the devastating gun violence in our cities, the numbers of children’s deaths and injuries caused by negligent storage and unsafe firearm handling is low. If by low you mean hundreds of deaths, and many more shootings that don’t kill — the types of gunshots “only” injure in both body and mind.

The thing is, negligent storage and handling are EASY to solve. Gun violence borne out of mental illness, loose laws, drug crime, racism, psychopathic tendencies, poverty, escalating arguments, and on and on is more complicated. But keeping guns away from children and following safety measures — not just parroting them — are easy fixes. There is no excuse.

Just today, a one-year-old was shot in the head. Police believe the perpetrator was another child.

Yesterday, a boy shot his cousin while riding in the backseat of a car. He is eight, she is nine. It was a .45 caliber handgun. Just lolling about in the backseat of a car.

A few days ago, in a brilliant move to make getting shot seem like NO BIG DEAL, an Alabama police chief responded to a negligent shooting of a 9-year-old with, “The bullet missed anything vital and the child is in stable condition in a Birmingham hospital.” Oh thank goodness! Nothing vital except the skin, bone, and psyche of the child and those around him.

And last week, in Oklahoma, a two-year-old shot himself in the chest and died. “Police said the shooting was just a tragic accident.” I beg to differ. Forget that. No begging. It is NOT an accident. It’s negligence, hubris, and abuse.

But don’t worry, negligent parents who own guns! There are rarely charges filed unless a child dies. So in this case, where a girl “retrieved the firearm from the couch area and accidentally shot herself,” the dad who left the gun in the “couch area” gets a stern reminder: Do not make firearms easily accessible. I’m sure he’ll listen next time.

Here’s the thing. I know that negligent parents are negligent in many ways. Kids get hurt in many ways. But firearms pack a pretty significant punch when it comes to negligence. And somehow it’s sacred ground. You can tell me to put a heavier coat on my kid, to stop feeding him chips, to put him to bed earlier, to not let him watch too much television…but talking about firearms is somehow taboo. I call bullshit.

These stories were all about children who lived in the home (or rode in the car) with the firearm. What if your child had been visiting for a playdate? What if you had asked your friend to drive your daughter home in her car? What if your teenager was babysitting for the child who found the gun in the “couch area”?

Or here’s one. What if your son had been invited by his girlfriend for a little undercover snuggling, but her dad shot him to death instead of throwing him out of the house and calling his parents? I don’t blame the father for being angry, afraid, or even having feelings of violence. But deciding to shoot someone should not be a first resort. And in a culture that reaches for a gun first and clambers and grasps for a defense next, these tragedies — avoidable tragedies — will continue to happen.

Let’s at least have the conversations that encourage safe storage of firearms away from children. That will leave more time and energy to turn to the more complex problems.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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20 Responses to Raising Voices: Lost Childhood Edition

  1. TT&NB says:

    This is why we decided to take the kids to gun safety training when we moved to a state that celebrated hunting. We will never own firearms. We ask every parent of our children’s friends if they own guns and how they store them before we allow our children to visit their home. I will never understand the flippant attitude some people have around firearms.

    • Smart move on your part to always be vocal. I think flippant is a good word for SOME people’s attitudes. I know it’s a minority of gun owners who are irresponsible. But sometimes otherwise responsible folks slip. Respecting the destructive power inherent in a firearm is paramount to gun safety. Walk the walk as well as talk the talk!

  2. Christina says:

    U G H! my girl is 4 and the other day I was picking her up from school and one of the little boys, a wee younger than Lovie, was throwing a fit about something when all of a sudden he screams at the teacher, “I’M GONNA TELL MY DADDY CUZ HE HAS A GUN!” I looked over in absolute horror b/c this child was speaking with absolute anger in him. the teacher looked super shocked, of course, and gasped loudly before telling him that “we don’t say things like that.” I was near shaking I was so upset. I get that people have the damn right to bear arms and all that stupid jazz but when a preschooler threatens to use a gun in an appropriate manner, something is very very wrong at home. just sickens me.

    • That’s just horrific. People who claim their kids — at four or even older — respect firearms and fully understand the consequences don’t know much about child development. A 4-year-old doesn’t understand death or even serious injury. They just don’t. I hope that family uses safe storage, and I hope the principal has the parents in to discuss the child’s threat — even though I doubt the tyke understood what he was threatening.

  3. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Those kinds of accidents are horrifying, more so because they’re so preventable. Responsibility, people!

    • In so many of these cases, there isn’t a real BAD guy. It’s similar to putting on the car seat straps incorrectly or rushing through a stop sign because it looks safe or saying “just this once” to wearing a bike helmet. Many times it ends in “All is well.” But it’s also what makes the tragedies that much more painful — that they were so simply preventable. It’s the “If only” part that has me seeing red.

  4. Kate Lester says:

    What I can’t understand is how we can insulate children from every bump and bruise: shredded rubber on the playgrounds, helmets, knee pads, safety recalls of toys, car seats… If a toy has a part that could be swallowed, there is an uproar. Yet no one seems to hold guns to the same standard.
    If you say you are pro-life, I think that should mean a wider range than from conception to birth.

    • I agree. There is a certain laxity that seems almost forced in the need to put firearms in a separate category. The latest foolishness about the Surgeon General nomination is an example of it. Of COURSE gun violence is a health issue. Argh! Sorry — feeling ranty after more stories from today.

  5. Another excellent piece.

  6. tinsenpup says:

    It’s difficult to understand how these incidents can be seen as anything BUT negligence. It seems beyond debate from where I sit, but then the stories speak for themselves.

  7. Seeing all of those stories clustered in one post makes me angry and then want to cry. It’s so frustrating the we can’t seem to have a logical discussion about the problems and real solutions related to gun violence!

    • The worst part is I could have kept adding to the list. I decided to just take a few. Advocating for Child Access Prevention laws related to firearms is one piece of prevention. But in the end, it has to be about changing the culture of laxity when it comes to firearms. The comparison to driving while drunk is apt. It used to be no big deal, and while it still happens, it’s definitely looked on differently and happens with much less frequency.

      Thank you for stopping in and CARING!

  8. Robin says:

    I am not anti-gun; but, I am anti-idiots who do not know anything about gun safety. You are right – these parents are probably negligent in other ways. We never had guns in the house when our kids were growing up. It never occurred to me that other people might when I sent my children to their homes. I guess I was naive.

    Tonight, while we were walking our dogs, there were two boys and a girl outside at the park, shooting something at one another. We could hear the gunfire, but it was dark. They were running and laughing the whole time, until one of them yelled: Stop. He got hit in the face, right on his nose next to his eye. As we approached them, I told them to stop shooting. My husband asked them what they were shooting. They all had bebe guns. Not one of them was wearing eye protection and they were shooting in a public area where a lot of people walk at night. If I was thinking, I would have asked them to take me to see their idiot parents. They could have shot us or our dogs, the lady who walks around the park every night for exercise, or the father and son who were star-gazing.

    Informative post!

    • As I said in the post, the kinds of incidents I mention here are easily preventable, unlike the combination of violence and relatively easy and cheap availability of firearms, especially handguns in our country. That’s what makes it so infuriating — we are NOT helpless.

      The incident with the BB guns is upsetting for the same reason. Instilling a respect for the damage a projectile can cause needs to come with the gift or purchase of these items.

      Thanks for stopping in to comment.

  9. Vanessa D. says:

    In Canada, guns are not the issue they are in the states. Still, a neighbor who is an avid hunter one year gave his son a BB gun. It was treated as if it were a hunting rifle, locked up and only taken out under supervision. I really admired that mindset.

  10. You bring up so many important points here, but the most meaningful to me is the importance of talking to other parents about firearms. I think you are absolutely correct about the fact that discussing feelings about ownership of guns and gun safety with other parents is kind of taboo. I think I mentioned this In one of your previous essays about gun violence, but when my daughter was little, I never even considered the fact that there might be guns in the homes of her friends. I always talked to her friend’s parents about bedtimes, what types of movies she was allowed to watch, etc. But I have never owned a gun, nor would I want to, so I never even considered that one of my daughter’s friends parents might have a gun in their home.

    Important and thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. Living where I do, it’s an odd sort of limbo because even though we have 15% of state residents as gun owners, many are hunters/sportsmen in more rural areas. I know it’s much higher in some other states. As it is, I do make some assumptions based on who parents are (yoga teacher? I haven’t asked…), but I’m trying to be more even-handed because I know that’s a weak excuse. Also, and even more important, is when the kids become older and more needy of peer group attention.

  11. Rachel says:

    My BIL who took his own life with a gun was accidentally shot in the arm as an eleven year old when friends were playing with a gun. He was “fine”.

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