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The combination of an unlocked, loaded gun and a curious child all too often ends in tragedy. Since 2015, there were over 2,300 unintentional shootings by kids in the United States, ended in 859 deaths and 1,523 injuries — an epidemic of “accidental shootings.”
Unfortunately, not a day goes by when a child is involved in a shooting one way or another. On Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, news broke about the death of a 3-year-old girl whose assailant is 5 years old. The shooting took place in a residence in Bena, Minnesota, early Friday morning.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office said the call reporting the shooting came in at 3:54 a.m. local time. Family members took the little girl to the hospital — she was pronounced dead.
Another devastating shooting happened on Thursday, August 12; a young mom was shot by her toddler in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
Police indicate a 911 call came in from someone on a Zoom meeting with 21-year-old Shamaya Lynn. The caller said they heard a loud noise and saw the victim fell. When police arrived, they discovered she died after being shot in the head by her child, who they believe found an unsecured handgun in Lynn’s purse.
Hypothetically, emotional desensitization to violence is a form of habituation, a well-established type of non-associative learning that results in a diminished response to gun violence after repeated exposure, according to NCBI.
This theory appears to be provable in studies of young adults over 17 with repeated exposure to violent media in video games, TV, and film. On the other hand, living through a shooting-related event or violence in their home seems less easy to prove.
Moreover, since researchers do not know if the results of this theory would yield the same results in children under 17, it seems reasonable to assume younger kids are desensitized to shootings in other ways.
Carrie Shrier writing for Michigan State University reminds adults that toddlers emulate the behaviors of those in their realm of influence — parents, care providers, extended family, as well as what they see on television, video, and film.
They watch everyone bigger than them for clues on how to talk, eat, react to situations, and interact with others.
Imagine how many times a child watches the adult in their lives pick up their gun and where they put it down or away. They even see the reflex action of sighting the weapon by lifting it and looking down its barrel.
It is not far-fetched to believe they can emulate “shooting” a handgun simply by observing the way others handle a weapon, whether or not they saw it in person, on TV, or in a film. The simple act of mimicking how a gun is held can lead to a child accidentally shooting someone.
First, it is important to note that guns do not kill people; it is the person doing the shooting do. Furthermore, it is also unconscionable to keep a loaded handgun within reach of a child.
Officials implore people to keep their children safe by securing any weapons in their homes — leaving dangerous items for kids to find can lead to disastrous results. Be Smart for Kids advises:
Assume children can find guns. Store firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition.
Opinion by Cathy Milne-Ware
NBC News: 5-year-old fatally shoots 3-year-old in Minnesota, officials say; by Rhea Mogul and Nicole Acevedo
NBC News: Toddler shoots, kills mom during video call after finding gun, Florida police say; by Phil Helsel
Everytown: #NotAnAccident Index
Be Smart: Resources and Tools
NCBI: Emotional Desensitization to Violence Contributes to Adolescents’ Violent Behavior; by Sylvie Mrug, Anjana Madan, and Michael Windle
Michigan State University: Young children learn by copying you! By Carrie Shrier
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