What experts say can be done to prevent accidental shootings involving children

9 children shot with unsecured guns in Metro Detroit in 2021

Uniquely qualified experts share what can be done to stop accidental shootings involving children.

The shootings happen when children are able to access weapons. In 2021, nine children were shot with unsecured guns in the Detroit area. So far this year, at least six children have been shot.

“If you’re gonna carry a gun, there are rules to carrying a gun and you have to do so responsibly so another one of Detroit’s children aren’t shot unnecessarily by getting ahold of a weapon,” White said on Dec. 14, 2021.

Near a month later, White was back on camera saying the same thing after a 2-year-old had found another gun. This time in their mother’s bedroom. The gun went off and struck the child in the wrist and shoulder.

“And if we’re not going to be responsible and we’re having our babies get shot by adult decisions, I mean, it’s irresponsible and we just gotta do better,” White said on Feb. 7. “We gotta do better for our children.”

People like Lisa Vitale, who runs the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Gun Safety Program, is familiar with those consequences.

“We just want gun owners to be safe,” Vitale said.

When a child is shot, Vitale is the one who talks with parents and families. She asks difficult questions about how their child may have gotten their hands on a gun and how to stop it from happening again.

“We try to be very empathetic to their emotions and really let them know that we’re on their side and that this is just to protect them from this ever happening again,” Vitale said.

Local 4 spoke with Vitale twice in the span of a week. During that time there were three more accidental shootings. One took the life of a 14-year-old.

“It is hard. We would like to prevent all injuries, but we do know that accidents happen and most of the time these are truly accidents. So, really, just being here to take care of the patients is really what it’s all about,” Vitale said.

According to a study from the State of Michigan, since the start of 2021 twenty kids were killed after finding firearms they shouldn’t have been able to find. Another study from the National Group Everytown found 104 have been injured or killed since 2014.

Firearms are the second leading cause of death among kids in Michigan. Most of those deaths are entirely preventable. There are 29 states and Washington D.C. that have laws that penalize parents of a child can get access to their guns, they’re known as child access prevention laws. or CAP laws.

Rebeccah Sokol is an assistant professor at Wayne State University.

“As far as Michigan is concerned, we don’t have a child access prevention law,” Sokol said.

She researches guns and kids. She says in Michigan there are no laws about negligent storage, no laws about a child having a gun, and no laws about giving a child a gun. There are no laws about criminal liability when it comes to a shooting by a child.

Michigan does, however, have a law that penalizes a parent who knows their child brought a gun to school. But no penalty if that gun is fired.

“These types of laws have been associated with a relative decrease in firearm suicides and unintentional shootings, shooting deaths by an estimated 8% to 19%,” Sokol said. “We do know that the single biggest risk factor for adolescent firearm injury is access to an unsecured firearm. And, so, to put this another way. The presence of a firearm in a child or teen’s homes substantially increases the risk of an intentional and unintentional firearm death.”

Sokol and a team of other researchers just finished a nationwide study looking at firearm deaths when kids and teens had easy access to guns. Their findings are troubling, especially in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting. In that case, the question about who is responsible when a child gets their hands on a gun is literally on trial.

There is work being done to prevent these shootings. New federal laws have been proposed.

Read: Gun law coverage

About the Authors:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.