Special Report: Tactics Aimed to Tackle Accidental Child Shootings

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Little Rock, AR – Every year in Arkansas, and every day in the United States, children are involved in deadly shootings in front of and behind the barrel of a gun. 
 
 
“Every single one of these stories eats me alive,” said Austin Bailey, a volunteer and member of the Little Rock Chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Because they’re so preventable. They’re just so easily preventable.”
 
It’s not just the name of a group on her t-shirt. But a way of life she lives as the mother of two boys.
 
“When my son was three he was going on his first play date,” she said. “I knew I wanted to ask – are there guns and are they stored safely? But our society treats it as such a taboo subject, I made my husband ask.”
 
While the talk of guns can feel taboo, Moms Demand Action is encouraging parents to talk openly, ask important questions and spread the message of safety.
 
“I know it can be awkward, but ask about firearms in the home,” Bailey said, talking with a parent at the Conway Child Safety Fair. “It’s not something people always think about, but if she’s going on a play date, ask the parents do you have weapons in the home? And if so, are they stored safely?”
 
According to Bailey, and Moms Demand Action, it’s simple to be SMART. That’s the push of an education campaign to get parents who own guns to think about safe storage, but also bring the topic up to friends’ parents as well. 
 
The steps are as follows: 
 
Secure all guns in your home and vehicles
Model responsible behavior around guns
Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
Recognize the risks of teen suicide
Tell your peers to be SMART
 
“We just want to make sure kids don’t get their hands on weapons, which seems to happen too much,” Bailey told another parent. 
 
In Arkansas, between 2004 and 2013, Department of Health data shows 24 children died from accidental shootings. Another 6 deaths were undetermined. The remainders were suicides and homicides. 
 
During that same time period, data shows 154 children were hospitalized from accidental shootings, and between 2012-2013 at least 57 kids were brought to the ER with accidental gunshot wounds. 
 
“It’s all stuff I wish I didn’t have to know,” Bailey said. “But keeping up with the injuries and deaths every day it’s just tragic.”
 
And according to those familiar with the data, the numbers may be underestimates. The information comes from medical examiner’s reports and what defines a homicide from an accidental shooting report may be subjective as to how many people were involved and if the true intent of the person could be determined. 
 
Also, no national or state data is kept on the number of times children are the shooters. Moms Demand Action is attempting to track both incidents through public reports in its Not An Accident Index.
 
While Bailey reaches out to parents on taboo topics, Steve Nawojczyk tackles reality with teens and kids.
 
 “Imagine you’re a 12-year-old kid  and you’ve got this little gun here,” Nawyojczyk said, handling a BB gun on stage at Boys State for the 21st straight year. “And you have a good time playing with it and you walk down the street. Old nosy rosy sees out the window calls 911, telling cops there’s a kid with a gun she doesn’t know this is a play gun.”
 
Nawojczyk plays out the rest of the scene. Police arrive, start yelling at the kid to put down the weapon. And with one wrong move he’s left shot and killed and the police are facing public backlash. 
 
“We get upset with the police for it, but dammit, this looks like a real gun,” he tells the group of boys. 
 
Nawojczyk was the Pulaski County Coroner during the gang-banging era in Little Rock. He has seen plenty of kids come across the coroner’s slab due to gunshot wounds in accidental shootings and those unfortunate encounters with police. 
 
“I like to talk about the reality to young people about guns and the reality of them because many kids don’t get that,” he said. “I’m not a gun control nut. I own guns, and I believe in the right to own guns. But I also believe you have the responsibility to be responsible with your guns.”
 
“That’s why we have to teach gun safety,” he tells the group of teens in his presentation. “That’s why we should have my old ass in the school doing what I did here!”
 
Nawojczyk wants to reach kids sooner in the classroom that mistaking guns for a toy can trigger tragedy. He believes a gun safety component alongside a conflict mediation training could help kids not only realize that guns aren’t toys, but also how to deal with situations without turning to violence to settle them. 
 
“There are guns here. They are going to be here forever,” he said. “We just need to have kids understand and know that the reality is that guns can be used for bad purposes and that’s the message kids can change their parents.”
 
Both Bailey and Nawoyczyk say they want to avoid the rhetoric of the gun control debate. Their ultimate goal, they say, is to address the problem of one preventable death being one too many. 

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