Children and guns: Firearm-related deaths rise in Tennessee

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s an issue no parent wants to think about, but a growing number of children are dying from shootings.

One accidental shooting is one too many, and unfortunately, that number just keeps growing, especially in Middle Tennessee.

“Tennessee does have a disproportioned number of unintentional shootings involving children. According to those numbers, we were fourth in the nation for unintentional shootings,” said Beth Joslin Roth with Project Safe Tennessee.

These numbers are sobering. From 2011 to 2015, the number of firearm related deaths involving children has gone up from 26 to 46.

In 2016, of those 46, two of them were accidental, according to a report from the Tennessee Department of Health.

“Firearm-related deaths have gone up over the last five years, unfortunately,” said Assistant Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, Morgan McDonald said.

But Beth Joslin Roth with the Safe Tennessee Project says accidental is the wrong word.

Photo: WKRN

“Every one of those unintentional shootings of a child when they pick up a gun that an adult has left lying around is 100 percent preventable,” Roth said.

She continued, “In fact, we don’t even like to use the term accident because the word accident connotes something that couldn’t be prevented, and every one of these is preventable.”

The Department of Health releases a child fatality report every year, and although 2016 isn’t complete yet, Roth tracks them as well.

Here’s what her organization found. In 2016, there were 22 incidents where a child under the age of 18 picked up a loaded gun. Fourteen of those resulted in injuries to kids and six of them were fatal.

“So far this year there have been a total of five incidents, three injuries and two fatalities,” Roth said.

So what is the solution?

The Department of Health says guns in the home should be secured at all times, in a safe, unloaded and locked.

These days, every new gun purchased automatically comes with a lock.

Beth Joslin Roth (Photo: WKRN)

But if you still don’t have one, it’s pretty easy to obtain the right lock for you.

“Keeping guns secure and out of the hands of children is not complicated,” Roth said.

Buying a lock is simple, almost any retailer sells them and they’re also available online at Amazon, or by calling your local police department.

Some departments in Middle Tennessee offer them for free to residents, like the Franklin Police Department.

Organizations like Project Child Safe also offer free safety kits to police departments that request them.

There are simple locks that will cost less than $10, or for those who want quick access, there are touch-access safes available.

Or, you can even contact Roth.

“If anyone wanted a gun lock and contacted my organization, I would be happy to provide them with a lock,” she said.

Gun safety isn’t as simple as locking your weapon.

Firearm instructor Buford Tune says parents need to talk to their kids.

“Go to A to Z with them – this is how this gun operates, this is the reason you don’t do this, this is the reason you do it this way. Explain it to the complete family – the kids, everybody. Have them put their phones down. Sit down, shut up and listen because this is going to save your life or get you killed if you don’t do it the right way,” Tune said.

Tune is with the Academy of Personal Protection and Security, he’s also a former police officer and a father.

“The child should be taught that you can go tell someone there is a gun. You don’t pick it up and take it in there to them,” he said.

Having a conversation with the parents of those kids is also smart, it can be awkward but that is a small price to pay.

“Gun safety and children is an issue in our state we need to talk about.”

Because one of the biggest things these accidental shootings have in common is no one thinks it can happen to them McDonald said.