KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eight Missouri children were accidentally killed by unsecured handguns during the 2½ years leading up to July, and a St. Louis prosecutor said she thinks a new state gun law could lead to even more kids losing their lives in this way.
The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network analyzed the circumstances surrounding every accidental shooting death and injury involving children ages 17 and younger in the U.S. from Jan. 1, 2014, through June 30 of this year. The more than 1,000 cases they found involved incidents in which children unintentionally shot themselves or other children, or were accidentally shot by adults.
Five of the eight Missouri children who were accidentally shot to death were age 3 or younger. The other three were teenagers. Eighteen other children were accidentally shot but survived. Missouri’s per capita rate of such shootings was 4.27 per million people, which was 22nd highest among the 50 states and slightly higher than the overall national rate of 3.41 per million.
Using information collected by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan research group, news reports and public sources, the news outlets found the deaths and injuries are happening at a pace that far exceeds the scope revealed by limited federal statistics.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said her office aggressively investigates accidental shootings, but that it’s sometimes hard to prove the circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.
In one such case, a St. Louis child found a gun and accidentally shot someone else, but the child’s parents told investigators the victim was hit in a drive-by shooting, Joyce said. Though the investigation showed the parents’ story wasn’t true, it still would have been difficult to prove how the child got ahold of the weapon, she said.
Joyce, a gun owner, said she thinks there will be an increase in accidental shootings because of a new state law that allows most adults to carry concealed weapons without a permit or the training that was previously required to obtain one. The law also expanded the “castle doctrine” by allowing invited guests such as babysitters to use deadly force if confronted in homes.
“With more guns, there are more to be discovered by children, more available to people who are suicidal,” she said. “More guns, more death.”
The youngest of the eight Missouri children who were accidentally shot to death was a 9-month-old boy from Elmo, in the northwest of the state. He was in his playpen when his 5-year-old brother found his grandfather’s loaded .22 caliber revolver and accidentally fired it, striking the baby in the head.
Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White took the 911 call shortly before 9 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2015, from a frantic mother who said her baby had been shot with a paintball gun. It was a bullet wound.
“When you get that call there’s a little bit of disbelief,” he said. “You just have a hard time getting your head around it’s a 9-month-old child that’s been shot in the head.”