NEW ORLEANS — A 3-year-old boy dies when his grandmother’s gun accidentally discharges underneath her pillow in her New Orleans home, hitting the boy in the chest. A 2-year-old boy accidentally shoots and kills his own father inside their Alabama home.
New data compiled and analyzed by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network shows that such cases are tragically common: A child is shot to death every other day somewhere in America, on average. Accidental shootings involving children are particularly prevalent in the Deep South.
Using information collected by the non-partisan research group Gun Violence Archive as well as news reports and public sources, the media outlets spent six months analyzing the circumstances of every death and injury from accidental shootings nationwide involving children ages 17 and younger from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 30 of this year — more than 1,000 incidents in all.
The results show that the federal government significantly understates the frequency of these fatal accidental shootings. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi all ranked in the top ten of states with the highest rates of accidental shootings per capita. And the vast majority of the Deep South shootings — 102 — were in the child’s home. Only one happened in a school.
“These are 100 percent preventable,” said Trebor Randle, who heads the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Fatality Review Unit. “This is a preventable death, every single time.”
Randle, who often gives presentations on how to secure weapons, said many people think such incidents won’t happen to them or their children, and have no idea how widespread the problem is.
Other findings about these four Deep South states in the AP/USA TODAY Network research include:
— Louisiana had the nation’s second-highest rate of accidental child shootings, with 9.42 incidents per million people. That’s almost three times the national average of 3.4 per million. Only Alaska is worse.
— A total of 62 minors were killed, while 94 were injured during the research period.
— Ninety-one involved a handgun; rifles accounted for 10 of the incidents, and shotguns seven. In 61, the type of gun used could not be determined.
— Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge had the most accidental shootings of any city involving minors in these Deep South states — 13 during the coverage period. Most of the victims were teenagers.
The findings across the country showed that accidental shootings involving minors tend to spike under the age of five and then again between the ages of 15-17 — often the result of teenagers showing off guns and accidentally shooting a friend or sibling instead.
“It’s a mystery, and they want to solve the mystery of the gun,” said Hillar Moore, the East Baton Rouge District attorney.
Moore said his office began a gun buyback program about five years ago in response to these shootings. But Louisiana lacks a law specifically making parents responsible for gun safety, so some cases can be difficult to prosecute. Many times, the victims and the defendants know each other, and ask his office not to prosecute, saying the person responsible has suffered enough already, he said.
Louisiana recently received grants to help it join two Centers for Disease Control programs designed to track violent deaths and prevent violence and injuries, said Jane Herwehe, from the Louisiana panel that reviews unexpected child fatalities. By better understanding their scope, they hope to learn how to fix the problem.
The victims in the AP/USA TODAY research ranged from toddlers to full grown men shot by toddlers.
One of them was Divine Vaniah Chambliss, 31, found dead of a gunshot wound to the head with his 2-year-old son in the room on Aug. 18, 2015. Police in Hoover, Ala., determined the boy had accidentally fired the man’s handgun, and his death was ruled “accidental” by the medical examiner’s office, said Capt. Gregg Rector. No one was charged.
In New Orleans, a 3-year-old was killed when the gun under his grandmother’s pillow went off while the two were both sleeping on Jan. 20, 2016. His grandmother, Deonca Kennedy, was arrested and charged with manslaughter, according to court records.
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News Researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed from New York.