A recent article in the New York Times captures several elusive aspects of gun violence prevention efforts and the “gun culture” that exists in some places in the United States. The article, Titled “Children and Guns: the Hidden Toll” focuses on the most tragic of unintentional gun related fatalities; those that involve children shooting themselves or other children.
The authors took a detailed look at fatal unintentional shootings involving children in five different US states: Minnesota, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and California. The individual cases detailed in the article are heart wrenching but the article also highlights several important factors that influence gun violence prevention efforts more broadly.
Unintentional fatal shootings involving children are undercounted in the United States. The article points out that there is a lack of consistency in how these types of deaths are classified and that in many cases corners or medical examiners will classify these deaths as “homicides” as opposed to “accidents.” This can result in a substantial number of unintentional firearm related deaths involving children not being classified and therefore not counted as unintentional. The authors found only about half of these deaths were classified as “accidents.”
There is strong political opposition to safe storage and child access laws. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is exquisitely effective at mobilizing their political base and advocating against safe storage laws and anything they perceive as creating any type of barrier to gun ownership and use. Instead the NRA’s position is that education efforts such as their in-house Eddie the Eagle gun safe program are effective measures at addressing the issue, a dubious claim (see the 20/20 clip about the Eddie the Eagle program below)
The opposition to any measures that are perceived as creating a barrier to gun use extends to introducing childproofing elements or smart gun technology to firearms. These technologies would only allow the gun to be fired by intended users. The limited efforts to date by firearm manufacturers to introduce these technologies into firearms have been met with strong resistance and even boycotts from Pro – gun groups which have effectively ended these efforts.
There is a deeply ingrained gun culture in some parts of the United States. The most fascinating part of this article to me was the perspectives and quotes from the some parents of children that had been killed in these unintentional shootings. One mother was quoted in the article as stating that hunting is “in your blood” and that despite her child being fatally shot she could not ask her husband to get rid of his guns. Another mother stated that “I know that is something men do, that fathers and sons do.”
These quotes and perspectives do an excellent job of capturing the gun culture that exists in some places in the United States. Despite having grown up in various locations in the US where this type of gun culture does exist, I have found it very difficult to explain or capture some element of what this culture is like when trying to describe it to others. The fact is that this pro-gun culture does exist and that it forms the political base for pro-gun groups such as the NRA and needs to be taken very seriously in ongoing efforts to advance gun violence prevention efforts.