The Children’s Hour has come to the gun fight. Social media is giving disparate stories of children killed by, or killing with, guns a currency, coherence and reach that they lacked in the analog age.
The anecdotes stack up like subjects in a morgue. A child grabbed a loaded handgun off his grandmother’s dresser and shot himself. A 3-year-old shot and killed a man. Teenage boys played with a shotgun until one of them died. Another teen shot himself dead. In Idaho, a toddler shot his mother dead at Wal-Mart. And, of course, there’s the recent video of a baby playing with a (presumably unloaded, but realistically who knows?) handgun.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America (both supported by Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News), from December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children died in unintentional shootings.
Does it matter? Two years ago children were massacred in their classrooms in Newtown, Connecticut. Congress heard their parents’ anguished cries and did nothing. Senators filibustered comprehensive background-checks legislation, a policy backed by overwhelming public support and ironclad logic. (If it makes sense to restrict gun purchases by criminals and lunatics at retail outlets then it makes sense to restrict them online and at gun shows.)
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According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of 3,243 adults, about a third of Americans with children younger than 18 at home have a gun in their household, including 34 percent of families with kids under 12.
Many of those adults are responsible gun owners who keep their weapons safely beyond the reach of children. Others are the reckless products of a gun culture that encourages everyone – no matter how irresponsible, impaired or unhinged – to own guns and have them loaded and at the ready. After all, how else could these vulnerable, isolated individuals, abandoned by their government, fend off the murderous waves of “terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, ‘knockout' gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers.”
Responsible people rarely attract attention. But shocking ones do. And every time a young child dies because a “good guy with a gun” turns out to be a dangerous fool, it ripples. Social media is helping drive home just how many U.S. children live in shocking proximity to loaded firearms (and fools).
While kids have been killing themselves and others, the gun movement has been working to expand gun culture in public schools. The National Rifle Association has long had its Eddie Eagle program, educating the very young in gun safety (and, not incidentally, gun familiarity). After the Newtown massacre, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre characteristically demanded guns in schools.
Legislators in South Carolina are now looking to instill gun-movement ideology in the classroom. According to the Christian Science Monitor, state Rep. Alan Clemmons proposed a three-week curriculum on the U.S. Constitution, with special emphasis on the Second Amendment, for all grades. He wants to establish an annual Second Amendment Awareness Day on Dec. 15 – just in time for the Christmas rush. Another South Carolina state legislator proposed transporting students to gun ranges to further their education.
While guns remain a largely unregulated free-for-all – remember the tragedy involving the Crickett rifle designed for kids? – all 50 states require child-safety seats for young children in automobiles.
Adopting a similarly rudimentary level of safety for guns will require not only a legal evolution but also a cultural one. LaPierre has worked vigorously to set cultural norms for guns so distant from reality that they are beyond the reach of earthly common sense. On Planet NRA, the only means to keep children from an impending holocaust are lots and lots and lots of guns.
“How many more copycats are waiting in the wings,” LaPierre asked after Newtown. “A dozen more killers? A hundred? More?”
LaPierre is a cheerleader for dystopia because scaring people out of their wits is the essence of his job. Yet the armies of Adam-Lanza-like zombie killers have failed to materialize. Instead, we have only a relentless series of stupid gun deaths, many due to people who were too reckless to be responsible gun owners in the first place.
The federal government has no comprehensive tally. But if you follow Twitter feeds such as that of Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, you can watch the fatalities mount. On Twitter and Facebook, the outlines of a very different sort of army are taking shape.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.