Almost every day, there's a news story in America of a child being accidentally shot by a friend or sibling. Between December 14th, 2012 (when the Newtown shooting occurred) and May 4, 2013, there were 137 accidental shootings of children and teens, 57 of those fatal. According to FBI records, 561 children were killed by guns, many of those accidental, from 2006-2010.
Recently, 18-year-old Premilla Lal was accidentally shot and killed by family friend, Nerreck Galley. Premilla was hiding in a closet, and jumped out to playfully scare Nerreck. Nerreck, startled, grabbed his gun and fired instantly.
Last weekend, in Bowie, Texas, 18-year-old Nate Maki was found dead in his truck. He had been on a camping trip with his friend, Michael Underwood, and their girlfriends. The four teenagers were planning on dove hunting when the season began early the next morning. Details from that night remain under investigation. Only this much is clear, the teens had been drinking, Underwood fired a rifle, and the bullet hit Maki in the head, instantly killing him. So far, police say the death was a tragic accident.
I could have easily been another accidental gun death back in 2003, when I was 13.
One Saturday afternoon, I was hurting to pee, and discovered my oldest brother, Chet, hogging the hall bathroom. So, I bee lined for my parents' bathroom, which is tucked away in the back corner of my house and was pretty much off limits to us kids. I decided that this was an emergency, and used it anyway.
As I sat there, I heard someone open my parents' bedroom door. If you've lived with someone long enough, you learn to recognize footsteps, and I knew that it had to be one of my brothers, probably the younger one, Luke, since Chet was indisposed.
Luke was looking in our parents' closet for something, I don't remember what. Propped against one corner, he saw a high-powered rifle my father had recently bought. My brother has never been disturbed, or depressed, or suicidal. But, like many young men, he liked weapons. So, he picked the gun up to inspect it. He pointed it towards a back wall, and started to pull the trigger just as I came out of the bathroom, directly in the line of fire.
"Don't aim that at me!" I shouted, throwing my hands up in surrender. He turned, aiming the gun towards the ceiling. He put his eye in the scope, and pulled the trigger.
The gun went off, the bullet piercing the ceiling before lodging in the rafters above. My ears rang. Luke's eyes were wide with shock. When I could hear again, I could make out Chet, in the other bathroom, screaming through the thin drywall, "What the hell are you doing?"
My mom ran into the bedroom.
"What was that?" she demanded.
She took the gun away, safely storing it, but not telling us where.
"You are too old to play with guns," she scolded my brother.
"I didn't know it was loaded!" was his weak defense.
It's a scene that has played out in homes across the nation. Including 10-year-old Dalton Taylor's, who was accidentally killed after he and his friends found one of his dad's guns. My brother grew up around guns. He had gone hunting with our father. He knew gun safety. In that brief second, he made a stupid decision.
It should be noted that my brother would have never aimed a gun -- even if he knew for certain it was unloaded -- at another human being, and especially not me. There's no way he could have known I was in the bathroom. I hadn't turned on any lights in my desperate flee for the toilet, and when I tried to flush, I found it broken. If he had even heard that faint rattling of me messing with the handle, he probably ignored it, not knowing what it was.
That's my point. It doesn't matter how much you educate kids, or how much they "respect" guns. Accidents can happen. It only takes a perfect storm -- a father believing that a closet is a good enough hiding place until he can get a gun safe, ammo being accidentally left in the gun, an occupied bathroom, a broken toilet plunger, and most importantly, a brief second of stupidity on my brother's behalf.
Those things could have easily amounted in me being killed or at least critically injured. The only thing that saved me that day was timing. I shouted, getting my brother's attention just in time. I startled my brother, and luckily, his instinct was not to fire the gun, but to pull it away. The gun was aimed directly at my chest. Sometimes, I can still see the black barrel in that split second before it whirled upwards at the ceiling.
Shortly after this, while looking in the family's catch-all drawer, I found a box of plastic yellow gun-locks that hadn't been there before. My parents had learned from their mistakes, just as my brother has learned from his. Last year, while cleaning out a shed in our backyard, we came across a metal filing cabinet. The locks hadn't held up to the conditions inside the shed, and the drawer opened. In a paper bag was our grandfather's old pistol.
"Don't touch that," Luke said, walking over to the filing cabinet. He picked it up, and safely checked the gun for bullets. It was unloaded.
He tucked it back into its paper bag, and immediately took it to our father.