The Times West Virginian

Headline News

December 24, 2012

Young children are often victims of gunfire in U.S.

WASHINGTON — Before 20 first-graders were massacred at school by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., first-grader Luke Schuster, 6, was shot to death in New Town, N.D. Six-year-olds John Devine Jr. and Jayden Thompson were similarly killed in Kentucky and Texas.

Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, died in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., while 6-year-old Kammia Perry was slain by her father outside her Cleveland home, according to an Associated Press review of 2012 media reports.

Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.

As he mourned with the families of Newtown, President Barack Obama said the nation cannot accept such violent deaths of children as routine. But hundreds of young child deaths by gunfire — whether intentional or accidental — suggest it might already have.

Between 2006 and 2010, 561 children age 12 and under were killed by firearms, according to the FBI’s most recent Uniform Crime Reports. The numbers each year are consistent: 120 in 2006; 115 in 2007; 116 in 2008; 114 in 2009; and 96 in 2010. The FBI’s count does not include gun-related child deaths that authorities have ruled accidental.

“This happens on way too regular a basis and it affects families and communities — not at once, so we don’t see it and we don’t understand it as part of our national experience,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The true number of small children who died by gunfire in 2012 won’t be known for a couple of years, when official reports are collected and dumped into a database and analyzed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects to release its 2011 count in the spring.

In response to what happened in Newtown, the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun lobby, suggested shielding children from gun violence by putting an armed police officer in every school by the time classes resume in January.

“Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones ... They post signs advertising them and in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk,” said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre.

Webster said children are more likely to die by gunfire at home or in the street. They tend to be safer when they are in school, he said.

None of the 61 deaths reviewed by The Associated Press happened at school.

Children die by many other methods as well: violent stabbings or throat slashings, drowning, beating and strangulation. But the gruesome recounts of gun deaths, sometimes just a few paragraphs in a newspaper or on a website, a few minutes on television or radio, bear witness that firearms too, are cutting short many youngsters’ lives.

One week before the Newtown slayings, Alyssa Celaya, 8, bled to death after being shot by her father with a .38-caliber gun at the Tule River Indian Reservation in California. Her grandmother and two brothers also were killed, a younger sister and brother were shot and wounded. The father shot and killed himself amid a hail of gunfire from officers.

Delric Miller’s life ended at 9 months and Angel Mauro Cortez Nava’s at 14 months.

Delric was in the living room of a home on Detroit’s west side Feb. 20 when someone sprayed it with gunfire from an AK-47. Other children in the home at the time were not injured.

Angel was cradled in his father’s arms on a sidewalk near their home in Los Angeles when a bicyclist rode by on June 4 and opened fire, killing the infant.

Most media reports don’t include information on the type of gun used, sometimes because police withhold it for investigation purposes.

Gun violence and the toll it is taking on children has been an issue raised for years in minority communities.

The NAACP failed in its attempt to hold gun makers accountable through a lawsuit filed in 1999. Some in the community raised the issue during the campaign and asked Obama after he was re-elected to make reducing gun violence, particularly as a cause of death for young children, part of his second-term agenda.

“Now that it’s clear that no community in this country is invulnerable from gun violence, from its children being stolen ... we can finally have the national conversation we all need to have,” said Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

This year’s gun deaths reviewed by the AP show the problem is not confined to the inner city or is simply the result of gang or drug violence, as often is the perception.

Faith Ehlen, 22 months, Autumn Cochran, 10, and Alyssa Cochran, 11, all died Sept. 6. Their mother killed them with the shotgun before turning it on herself. Police said she had written a goodbye email to her boyfriend before killing the children in DeSoto, Mo., a community of about 6,300.

In Dundee, Ore., Randall Engels used a gun to kill his estranged wife Amy Engels and son Jackson, 11, as they ate pizza on the Fourth of July. An older sibling of Jackson’s also was killed. Engels then committed suicide. The town of more than 5,000 people boasts on its website that it is a semirural town with “the cultural panache of a big city.”

Many of the children who died in 2012 were shot with guns that belonged to their parents, relatives or baby sitters, or were simply in the home. Webster said children’s accidental deaths by guns have fallen since states passed laws requiring that guns be locked away from youths or have safeties to keep them from firing.

But even people trained in gun use slip up — and the mistakes are costly.

A Springville, Utah, police officer had a non-service gun in his home that officials said did not have external safeties. His 2-year-old son found the gun and shot himself on Sept. 11. The names of the father and son were not released at the time of the shooting.

Obama has tapped Vice President Joe Biden to shape the administration’s response to the Newtown massacre. The administration will push to tighten gun laws, many that have faced resistance in Congress for years. The solutions may include reinstating a ban on assault-style rifles, closing gun buying background check loopholes and restricting high-capacity magazines.

Those may have limited effect for children like Amari Markel-Purrel Perkins, of Clinton, Md. He shot himself in the chest on April 9 with a gun that an adult had stashed inside a Spiderman backpack.

Like most of the child victims at Newtown, Amari was 6.

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