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Dave Ross

When families emphasize the accident, not the gun

It turns out that many states report accidental gun deaths as homicides even when it's one of those tragic cases where a boy finds dad's gun, aims it at a brother or sister just in fun, and pulls the trigger. (AP Photo/File)

We’ve been told for a long time that accidental deaths involving kids and guns are relatively rare. But an investigation by New York Times reporter Michael Luo finds that it may not be quite as rare as the numbers imply.

It turns out that many states report accidental gun deaths as homicides even when it’s one of those tragic cases where a boy finds dad’s gun, aims it at a brother or sister just in fun, and pulls the trigger.

Luo says medical examiners and coroners call these deaths homicides because it’s a death at the hand of another – regardless of intention.

“We found that when we carefully reviewed all firearm deaths of children in several states where we could get records, it was twice as common as the records show.”

Even so, the numbers are relatively small: In 2010, for example, the CDC reported 62 children 14 years old or younger were killed by accidental shootings. Even if the number turns out to be double that, the NRA points out more children die each year from accidental choking than gun accidents.

What’s more significant to the gun debate is what Luo discovered when he talked to some of the families involved in these tragedies. They didn’t blame the gun or even the person who had left it out. He says one family’s case, the Dwyer’s, was particularly poignant.

A mom of two boys, 8 and 4, hadn’t put her gun away in the morning – she left it at her bedside table during the night for protection. She was getting the children ready for school that morning, and Luo says the 8-year-old found it and pointed it at his brother who was just done brushing his teeth at the bathroom counter. He shot him through the forehead.

Since then, Luo says that the boys’ father, Daron Dwyer, removed all of the guns from their house. But his son is now a “typical” 14-year-old boy who happens to be interested in the military.

Luo says the son started asking his father to teach him how to shoot a gun.

“Daron said to me, and he was incredibly articulate and incredibly thoughtful, that he never really considered just not letting his son touch a gun again. To him, knowing how to handle a firearm was a part of growing up, part of becoming a man. He was saying that allowing his son to do this showed him – in a really tangible way – forgiveness. That he didn’t hold this against him, that he never did. It was an accident.”

So a couple months ago Daron brought his son shooting and Luo says he described a very emotional moment as his son fired a .22 and then a 12-gauge shot gun. “This sense of forgiveness came over both him and his son.”

The gun actually became part of the boy’s redemption.

For that family, and for others Luo interviewed, when a child is accidentally killed by a gun, the emphasis is on the accident, not the gun. They would no sooner consider giving up guns forever because of a gun accident than you would consider giving up your car forever because of a car accident.’s Alyssa Kleven contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Dave Ross

Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.


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