The below testimony was presented by Everytown for Gun Safety Research Director Ted Alcorn at a Hearing of the Consumer Product Safety Commission ewntitled “Agenda and Priorities FY2017 and/or 2018” in Bethesda, Maryland on June 15, 2016.
Good morning, Chairman Kaye, and thank you for the opportunity to present my testimony this morning. My name is Ted Alcorn, and I am the research director for Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown is the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country with more than three million supporters and more than 100,000 donors including moms, mayors, survivors, and everyday Americans who are fighting for public safety measures that respect the Second Amendment and help save lives.
I am here today to address the burden of injuries inflicted by children who gain access to and unintentionally discharge firearms — an area of great concern to the public and one that the Commission has authority to address — and to urge the Commission to use its authority to enhance the surveillance of unintentional shootings of children.
In 2013, consistent with the Commission’s authority to regulate safe storage devices such as trigger locks and gun safes, the President of the United States asked the Commission to review and enhance the standards for those devices, a process I understand is now underway.The White House, “Progress Report on the President’s Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence,” available at: http://1.usa.gov/1r2LvNh
We know that effective, evidence-based interventions rely on a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the problem they are addressing. Unfortunately, current surveillance of unintentional shootings by children is woefully inadequate. In 2013, employing press reports, Everytown identified 100 children 14 and under who died due to unintentional firearm injuries — nearly fifty percent more than reflected by national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Everytown for Gun Safety, “Innocents Lost: A Year of Unintentional Child Gun Deaths,” June 24, 2014, available at: http://every.tw/1Uhg35a Furthermore, even our count was limited since it did not capture incidents in which a child fired a gun but harmed someone older, nor incidents in which the victim was injured but did not die.
So last year, again using press reports, Everytown created and has since maintained an open-source index of all incidents in which a child 17 or under unintentionally fired a gun and harmed or killed someone. We consult with local law enforcement to confirm details as necessary. The data we collect are publicly available on our website, EverytownResearch.org. And the patterns they illustrate could inform further approaches to reduce these injuries:
In 2015, Everytown identified 278 unintentional child shootings, which resulted in 88 deaths and 194 injuries. As of June 1 this year, we had already identified 100 more such shootings.i Everytown for Gun Safety, “Not An Accident Index,” available at http://etresearch.wpengine.com/notanaccident
Three-year-olds pull the trigger more than children of any other age. And unlike shootings involving older children, who typically harm another child, the vast majority of toddlers shoot themselves.
We observed enormous variation across states in the rates of unintentional child shootings. Controlling for population, Alaska experienced these tragedies 30 times more frequently than did California.
Most important from the standpoint of prevention was the apparent role played by the responsible storage of firearms. Whereas fewer than 15 percent of gun-owning households with children report storing their firearms unlocked and loaded or with ammunition, these households accounted for more than two-thirds of the unintentional child shootings we observed.
Though the public sometimes refers to shootings like this as “accidents” — a word that suggests they occur by chance, unforeseen, without reason — Everytown is deliberate in describing these as “not an accident.” Because these tragedies are eminently preventable, if our society increasingly adopts norms of storing guns responsibly, and evaluates our success at doing so.
To promote that change in behavior, Everytown developed the public education campaign Be SMART, which gives gun owners and non-gun owners alike a way to share information about responsible storage of firearms in their communities.Be Smart for Kids, available at: http://besmartforkids.org/ Organizations across the political spectrum run similar programs, from the Brady Center’s ASK campaign to the firearm trade industry’s Project ChildSafe.
But to measure the effectiveness of any individual law or campaign, it is essential to have an accurate measure of the outcome of interest. The Commission plays an important role estimating rates of non-fatal injuries of all types through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS).v Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, available at: http://1.usa.gov/1TY48xk But more accurate information about unintentional child shootings will be critical for assessing the effect of current public health approaches. The Commission should adopt measures to improve surveillance of unintentional shootings of children through the NEISS system. The Commission might also consider establishing an open-source measure of these shootings. Everytown’s index demonstrates the reach of online media for supporting these efforts, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently adopted similar tools for tracking law-enforcement-involved shootings.U.S. Department of Justice, “Attorney General Lynch: Use-Of-Force Data is Vital for Transparency and Accountability,” October 5, 2015, available at: http://1.usa.gov/1UeF15F
To be sure, one agency alone cannot solve this complex problem, and other agencies must also play a role. It is essential to measure how gun storage behavior has changed over time state by state, and the CDC ceased measuring this in 2004, when questions relating to firearm storage were dropped from their national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS coordinators should reintroduce these questions.
Unintentional child shootings account for just a fraction of the tens of thousands of firearm-related injuries that occur in the United States each year, but few cry out so strongly for prevention. Even one preventable firearm injury or death of a child is one too many, and I believe the Commission has an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to addressing this problem — and save lives.