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Entries categorized "Guns"

I Didn't Know the Gun Was Loaded . . .

By Elayne Savage, PhD


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When I was little I played with my daddy’s gun.


I’d pull the stool from the vanity over to the dresser so I could reach the top drawer and then reach under clothing for the gun. Luckily there was never a bullet in a chamber – but there could have been. 


I know now this is how unintentional shootings happen.


I felt perfectly comfortable with the gun. It was many years before I started becoming upset by the memory of this as I was reading story after story about children playing with guns and shooting themselves or someone else.  


It was then that I began to understand how dangerous it could have been.  I realized these unintended shootings happened when a supposedly responsible adult forgot to empty all the chambers AND  forgot to secure the gun in locked location –– then a child got killed or injured. 


I Cringe from These Tragedies 

I cringe each time I hear about these unintentional shootings by and of a child. 

I know it’s a PTSD visceral response for me whenever I read about one of these senseless deaths or injuries. I’m reminded, “It could have been me.” 

I have been reacting to these ‘accident’ stories for years, but I’ve never written about my feelings until now. 


Most shootings by children are shootings of children 

Yes, most shootings by children are shootings of children, a young sibling or a cousin or a playmate.  However, sometimes a child shoots an uncle or aunt. Sometimes a parent – or even both parents.


Sometimes they unintentionally shoot themselves in the head or heart and die. 


They find the guns in closets and nightstand drawers and backpacks or purses, or just left out in plain sight.


Recently many of us were aghast when a toddler in his Florida house found an unsecured gun and shot and killed his mother while she was on a video call with co-workers. Her colleagues witnessed the shooting and called 911. 


Seem to be happening as well at children’s birthday parties. Imagine the traumatic memories each of these children will carry with them for the rest of their lives.


I’m a great believer in giving overwhelming feelings some form and shape and I discovered a website that keeps track of unintentional shootings of children by children. 

Everytown Research and Policy


In 2021 there were at least 288 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 118 deaths and 185 injuries nationally


  • Shootings by children are most often also shootings of children. Ninety-one percent of those injured or killed in unintentional shootings by children were also under 18.


  • Seven in ten of the unintentional child shootings occurred in homes, whether in the home of the shooter, the victim, a relative’s house, or another home. Unintentional shootings occurred most frequently when children were likely to be home: over the weekend, in the summer, and during school holidays. 


  • The two age groups most likely to be both shooters and victims were teenagers 14 to 17 first, and then preschoolers five and younger. 


  • The 10 states with the highest rates of injury and death as a result of unintentional child shootings had rates more than 12 times higher than the 10 states with the lowest rates.


  • States with secure storage or child access prevention laws had the lowest rates of injury or death from unintentional child shootings. Rates of death or injury from these shootings in states with no secure storage laws were double to triple the rates in states with laws that hold gun owners accountable when children can or do access an unsecured gun.


As I stated above, I”ve been wanting to write down my feelings about children having access to guns for several years. Interestingly what prompted me right now was reading about another senseless horrific unintentional killing.  When Alec Baldwin, practicing drawing his prop gun, shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director, Joel Souza on the ‘Rust’ movie set. The supposedly "cold" gun handed to Baldwin for practice had a real bullet in the chamber.


What was especially disturbing is a report describing how a number of crew members had taken prop guns from the movie set of ‘Rust’ — including the gun that killed Halyna Hutchins — to go “plinking” to pass the time a few hours before the unintentional shooting.  I grew up in Nebraska knowing about this activity where folks shot beer cans off of a fence with live ammunition for fun­­ –– but I’ve never heard the term ‘plinking’ before.  Have you?


I grew up hearing the song 'I Didn’t Know the Gun Was Loaded' and didn’t think much about it –– until recently –– and now I can’t seem to get it out of my head.


I’d be grateful if some of you would discuss your own ideas on accidental shootings by children. Having these conversations would be really helpful for me. And maybe for you too.


© Elayne Savage, PhD


April 30, 2024

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