Two-year-old Shoots Hole in NRA Theory

On December 30, 2014, in Hayden, Idaho a two year old shot and killed his mother. The woman was shopping at Wal-Mart, with the boy and her purse in the shopping cart. She had a license for a concealed handgun, and the gun was in her purse in a special zippered pouch for a concealed weapon. Her son reached into the purse, and the gun fired, killing the woman. Presumably they boy was playing, and just thought it was a toy, or maybe it was a tragic accident and the child inadvertently hit or squeezed the trigger. The news story is not clear on the details. [Here’s the Story from Fox News .] But ….

According to a favorite gun advocate slogan, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The idea behind the slogan is that murder is intentional, and if someone is intent on killing they will do it with whatever tool is available. The slogan strongly implies that every killing is intentional, and if a gun is not available the killer will use something else. So, according to this theory, if that toddler in Idaho hadn’t used a gun he would have killed his mother with something else. Perhaps he would have toddled to the auto supply section and grab a tire iron to bash in his mother’s brains. But clearly that idea is as absurd as it is sick. The child obviously had no intent to kill his mother (and will undoubtedly be traumatized by it for the rest of his life). Had the gun not been in his mother’s purse he may have played with her car keys or cell phone, and she would be alive today. So clearly it was the gun that killed the woman. The gun killed the woman, not the child.

Every year roughly 30,000 Americans are killed by guns. (See, Of that, roughly 10,000 are murdered, 19,000 commit suicide, and between 500 and 1,000 are killed accidentally. [The Wikipedia Entry for Gun Violence in the United States has a good overview of these numbers.] In 2011, the last year for which data is available, 32,163 people were killed by guns. Of that 19,766 committed suicide, 11,101 were murdered, and 851 were killed by accidental discharge of a firearm. [The CDC Data is here, in Table 2 ] There is no way to know about the 10,000 murders, and it is likely that if the murderer did not have a gun he would have used something else. (I say “he” because men commit 95% of all homicides. I apologize to the female murderers out there for my sexist language.) But it is worth noting that there were 4,852 murders by other means in the United States in 2011, so some would have been committed by other means. But just as clearly it is not true of those 500 to 1000 “accidental” gun. The two year old in Hayden Idaho had no intent to kill his mother, nor did the three year old in Arizona who shot his 18 month old brother, or the three year old in Oklahoma who killed his mother. Just Google “toddler shoots…” parent or sibling and you’ll get dozens of hits of small children inadvertently killing a family member. (It’s really disconcerting.) There is no way to know what percentage of the roughly 500 to 1000 accidental deaths each year are kids killing a parent, but clearly it happens with some frequency. Other leading causes of “accidental” gun deaths are people cleaning guns, and showing off with guns. But in every one of those accidental cases there was no intent to kill.

That means that between 5% and 10% of all non-suicide gun deaths each year are accidental, with no intent to kill. And this means that in 5% to 10% of all non-suicide gun deaths each year it was the gun and not the person, that did the killing. So guns do kill people.

The NRA and gun rights advocates may not care about logic, and they certainly don’t care about the roughly 1000 people killed accidentally by guns each year. They believe that their rights, or rather their warped idea about those rights, are more important than the lives of a thousand people a year. Those people are merely collateral damage, statistical blips, background noise lost in the chatter of silly slogans.

Author: Mike

I am a patent attorney in Lexington, Kentucky. My law firm web site is I ran for State Representative in 2010 and lost in the primary. Many of these posts are based on writing that I did for that election. Rather than delete it all, I decided to dump it onto the internet.

4 thoughts on “Two-year-old Shoots Hole in NRA Theory”

  1. I like statistical data, and I have no problem agreeing that accidental gun deaths are tragic and should be lowered. However, I really take issue with your last paragraph which seeks to paint gun owners and gun rights activists as callous people-haters who care nothing for the deaths of women and children. What absolute and unspeakable rubbish!

    Accidents are just that: accidents. Accidental deaths happen by many, many things besides guns, and compared to many other everyday things we use, guns actually have a very good track record (not that it can’t be improved). Accidents happen with cars, ladders, bathtubs, stairs, swimming pools, hospitals, doctors, drugs, alcohol, etc.. Many of these things have a far and away worse track record than guns when it comes to inadvertently killing people, but because they are useful and often essential, we accept the accidents that come with them. Just because something can be dangerous does not mean it is therefore fundamentally evil. More education may be in order, but not necessarily more laws or more vilification of people with whom you happen to disagree. I’d be interested to know what you think is a “warped idea of rights” and where you base this prejudice.

    The most important thing you, as a gun safety advocate, need to do is to start embracing the NRA. I find it highly ironic that the NRA is constantly vilified by those who would seek to curtail the Second Amendment in the name of saving lives, yet the NRA’s biggest emphasis and purpose is gun safety! I’m very much in favor of saving lives, but I’m also very much in favor of freedom, even if it means a greater risk of accidents. I believe it would be a very good idea to bring gun safety classes to all public schools so that kids know what to do when they find a gun. Water safety, fire safety, stranger safety, drug safety, and sex safety are all drilled into kids. Why not gun safety? Perhaps it would be an excellent use of tax dollars if the government paid for gun safety classes and propaganda campaigns aimed at adults too. Safe gun storage advertisements complete with statistics about how many guns are stolen from private citizens every year would cost very little and could prevent some accidents and could also lower gun crimes. Statistically, 1000 accidental deaths/year is a very low number compared to the sheer number of gun owners and shooters in this country. Given the already low number of gun accidents, it should not be hard to make a pretty hefty dent. Education (not laws) is the best tool to prevent accidents, and it does not require anyone to give up even one tiny bit of their freedom.

    Instead of painting gun owners as vile, child-hating cretins, you need to really examine the numbers and see what a good safety track record we actually have, and you need find ways to bridge the gap with gun owners. Insulting us won’t solve anything and only makes people on both sides dig deeper trenches. All of us want fewer accidents and crimes, but many of us don’t believe that adding more regulation or curtailing of freedom will ever achieve a perfect (or better) society.

    1. Nan:
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I obviously disagree with you on a lot of things, but I appreciate your willingness to think about these things and take the time to comment.
      That being said, I didn’t coin the slogan “Guns don’t kill people …” And it is that slogan that trivializes a serious issue.

      1. Actually, the “guns don’t kill people” slogan is spot-on. It trivializes nothing because it puts the blame squarely where it should be–on humans. For me, it brings home the seriousness of handling weapons, the importance of gun safety, and need for more widespread education and awareness among everyone–gun owners and non-owners alike. Gun-owners are often far to cavalier about gun storage and handling (as evidenced by this very story of a negligent mother), and non-owners are often too ignorant or scared to keep themselves or their kids safe in a world where, like it or not, guns exist and are here to stay. Even if all guns were outlawed tomorrow, they would still be here to stay because yeah, sorry, but I just don’t buy the whole Prohibition thing–we’ve been there, done that, and you’d think we might have learned something from it! Prohibition failed miserably. The War on Drugs has been an embarrassing fiasco. Do you really expect a War on Guns to go any better? You can ban and regulate things all you want, but as long as there’s a demand it will never go away.

        The best thing to do is to educate the heck out of people so they don’t “stupid” their way into a tragedy. There’s no excuse EVER for a mother to leave her gun within reach of a toddler, even if she thought it was unloaded! Don’t blame the gun in this story–blame the mother. If this mother had left prescription pills in her purse and her kid found them and ate a fatal dose, would you have blamed the pills? You’d be a fool to do so. Are cars responsible for auto accidents, or do we blame the drivers? Honestly, if the cars are responsible for crashes, then no person should ever get ticketed or jailed! If people are not responsible, then answer me this: should we have killed the horse that kicked my brother?

  2. I’d also like to add while my family has always owned and shot guns, none of us has ever had an accident with one. The closest calls we’ve had have come from cars, bicycles, and horses. The story of the two-year-old killing his mother reminds me vividly of an accident my brother had with a car. My mom ran into the house to grab something and left my four-year-old brother sitting in the car. She had taken the keys, but my brother decided to play driver. He released the parking brake and started playing with the gear shift. He got it into neutral and the car took off backwards down our (very steep) driveway. He ended up in a ditch on the other side of the highway and was unhurt, but it was a very close call. He could have killed himself or anyone on the road. He could have backed over our mom as she approached the car. In such cases we rightly blame the parent (my mom has not forgiven herself for her negligence to this day). I’m sure if the mother in your story had had a near miss, she would have changed her ways and taken better safety precautions with her gun as my mother did with her car. Unfortunately, not all accidents end with a learning experience–such is the nature of accidents.

    Some of my own closest calls have been with horses. I’ve been bucked off, thrown, kicked, and even trampled under a galloping horse. There are countless times when a single rock or tree in the wrong place at the wrong time could have sealed my fate. The same brother that drove the car into the ditch was injured when a horse kicked him in the chest (thank goodness he was just coming back from canoeing and was still wearing his life preserver!). Had the horse kicked half a foot higher and gotten him in the head he would have been killed. Sometimes the difference between a lesson and a tragedy is only inches, and who do we blame? I suppose some people would blame the horse, but let’s face it–he was only being a horse and kicked in surprise when a brightly-colored midget startled him from behind. We did not put the horse down, but we schooled my brother (again!) about the importance of not walking up behind horses. My parents also chewed out the grown-ups who had taken the kids canoeing and thought it was a good idea to cut across the horse pasture on the way home.

    The point is, many of the things we enjoy or even find necessary in life are also dangerous. This doesn’t mean that the people who use them every day are evil monsters for “disregarding” the fact that accidents happen. While the percentage of people killed in horse accidents is proportionally quite high compared to people killed by guns, that doesn’t make me a monster for not wanting more regulations or bans on the animals or the industry. While I’m in favor of taking reasonable precautions, I’ve also learned to live with the fact that accidents sometimes happen in spite of taking care. And even if you teach people to be cautious, people are also imperfect and will sometimes have judgement lapses that can result in tragedy.

    How many times have I heard, “The one time he/she didn’t wear a helmet/forgot reflective vest/didn’t double-check knots…” (queue tragic story of fatal or debilitating horse/bike/climbing accident, etc). To err is human and to blame the activity or object is silly. Don’t call gun owners illogical while blaming an object for a tragedy that should be chalked up to human error. There are right and wrong ways to do everything. Or are you saying we should have shot the horse that kicked my brother?

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