The outrageous death of Ashton Gooding provoked damn little outrage.
News coverage was confined to a few paragraphs in the Tampa Bay Times, a scattering of local TV coverage around Tampa and a short Associated Press dispatch. Xinhua, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, picked up The AP story and added a few lines that the American press would have considered too obvious to mention: “Lax vetting prior to gun purchasing has led to recurring shooting incidents in the country, including, in this case, premature death of youngsters who can easily approach the weapon.”
Ashton was 4. The little boy fatally shot himself last Sunday night after coming across a loaded pistol in his mother’s Tampa home. Maybe you heard of the shooting. Or maybe you confused it with the markedly similar self-inflicted fatal shooting involving a 4-year-old in Auburndale in January, or the 4-year-old who shot himself in Zephyrhills in March.
Who can keep track of all these child shootings anyway? In December, an 8-year-old in Pensacola accidentally shot and killed his 3-year-old sister. In January, a 10-year-old shot himself in Clearwater. In March, a 2-year-old in Jacksonville survived a self-inflicted gun-shot wound. That was the same month a 3-year-old in Deltona found a gun in his mother’s car and shot out the windshield. In May, 13-year-old Teddra King was accidentally shot and killed by her brother in Florida City.
Kids accidentally shooting themselves or a playmate or a sibling have become too commonplace to notice. A kid dies from an accidental shooting every other day in the United States, according to collaborative investigative report published last fall by The Associated Press and USA Today.
The report, looking at more than 1,000 accidental child shootings between 2014 and the summer of 2016, found that “deaths and injuries spike for children under 5, with 3-year-olds the most common shooters and victims among young children.” AP and USA Today found that nearly 90 3-year-olds were killed or injured in the shootings, most of which were self-inflicted. In all, 152 children under 12 were accidentally shot and killed, by self-inflicted gunshot wounds or another child. Seven of those cases were from Florida.
In June, the journal Pediatrics came up with its own set of dire statistics (counting more than just accidental shootings). “Nearly 1,300 children die and 5,790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year.”
Shocking stuff? Nah. These reports hardly caused a stir in the U.S. We’ve been conditioned to shrug off toddler killings with the same nonchalance we show for mass murders in schools or theaters or nightclubs.
Our gruesome gun statistics only shock residents of other industrialized nations. According to a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Medicine, 91 percent of children under 14 killed by firearms lived in the United States. (The same study found that 90 percent of women and 92 percent of young people from 15 to 24 years old killed by firearms were from the U.S.)
But I don’t want to mislead you. Our gun culture doesn’t just take a toll on women and children. The American Journal of Medicine report notes that “Americans overall are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared with residents of these other high-income countries.” In a gun-berserk society, kids are just so much collateral damage.
Of course, the gun lobby, led by the NRA, blames negligent parents and other household adults for allowing children access to guns. Indeed, Florida law requires gun owners to keep their weapons locked away from children. Unhappily, Harvard researchers discovered that 39 percent of gun-owning parents surveyed wrongly believed their kids didn’t know where their guns were stashed and 22 percent had no idea that their children had actually played with those weapons.
Besides, in a country with an estimated 350 million guns, the chances that toddlers and other children happen upon loaded weapons have become statistically inevitable. Tough laws can’t negate the tragic probabilities. Of course, smart guns with computer chips ensuring that only the owner can pull the trigger would help. But such technologies are fervently opposed by the gun culture. Gun-rights absolutists, rather than surrender even a smidgen of infringement, would rather the U.S. maintain a gun homicide rate on par with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Florida, where a child gets shot every 17 hours (according to a statistical analysis compiled by the Tampa Bay Times), the gun lobby is so fearsome that leading gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam has suddenly abandoned his once-moderate stance to favor legislation that would allow Florida gun owners to openly display their holstered weapons and permit them to wield firearms on college campuses.
Because, in Florida, politicians have noticed that child gun deaths don’t cause near as much stir as measures that offend gunslingers. They’ve noticed that just a week later, nobody much remembers how little Ashton Gooding died.