This Note is a companion to the August 2021 “Preventable Tragedies” report.
Everytown defines an unintentional shooting by a child as an incident where someone under age 18 unintentionally shoots themself or someone else.
In order to be included in the Everytown dataset, the person who fired, discharged, or was handling the gun, or otherwise caused the gun to fire, must be under the age of 18, and the shooting must not have been intentional. Incidents where a child believed a gun to be unloaded when they fired it, were playing with the gun and did not intend to fire it, or intended to fire it but not at a person (such as while hunting) are considered unintentional shootings and are thus included in the dataset.
Everytown researchers primarily rely on official determinations of whether an incident is unintentional, including statements by police, investigators, or the courts. Where an official determination is not available, at least two researchers review the case to make an informed, independent decision. For example, an incident in which an older teen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound would not be considered unintentional if no other detail indicating intent is available. An incident where a toddler died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound would reasonably be included as an unintentional shooting if details indicate that the child did not realize or intend for the gun to fire, often taking into consideration the child’s behavior before the shooting or the circumstances under which the gun was found.
Between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2020, 2,070 unintentional shootings by children were identified by Everytown researchers. Incidents are identified primarily through media reports, and are periodically revisited for accuracy as more information becomes available.
Researchers also track characteristics of each of the incidents in the database, including the type of firearm used, how and where the firearm was stored when the child accessed it, the location and date of the shooting, and whether an incident resulted in criminal charges. By consulting official accounts, media reporting, and family and witness testimony, researchers also collect available demographic information on people involved in an unintentional shooting, including the shooter, the victim, the gun owner, and anyone charged in connection with the incident. However, specific information about individuals involved in these incidents is often unknown, largely because all of the shooters and most of the victims are children and benefit from both laws and practices related to protecting the privacy of minors.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.