The common rallying cry of any gun control activist is “won’t someone think of the children?” That siren song has been used to justify more gun control schemes than any other, all while providing little to no proof that said schemes actually work. There’s a story in the Associated Press this morning attempting to back that statement up, claiming that Massachusetts’ strict gun storage laws prevented children from accessing firearms and therefore saved lives.
“Massachusetts, a state with one of the strictest gun-storage laws in the country, had one fatal accidental shooting of a child under the age of 12 from 2014 to 2016.” Apparently since there was only one fatal accidental shooting of a child in Massachusetts that’s proof that the laws are working. But is it really?
Let me start here: every death is a tragedy. But when we are dealing with public policy and rule making, the common thought is that we should be enacting laws that do the most good for the most people. A law that “feels good” and might save five lives at the cost of hundreds of other deaths isn’t a very good law. So with that lens in mind let’s take a look at the numbers.
As I discussed in my often cited Guns and Violence in the United States, By the Numbers article the number of children who accidentally die in the United States every year is shockingly small. For 2015, the most recent year the CDC provides results, there are only 48 recorded incidents where a child under the age of 14 was killed accidentally with a firearm. That’s less than one per state per year, on average.
That’s a lazy way of looking at the situation, though. And we’re not USA Today — we actually do our homework.
Massachusetts is home to 2.11% of the U.S. population as of the last census. There really isn’t a reliable metric for how many people in a given state own guns, so I’m going to make an assumption that firearms are evenly distributed and people in Massachusetts are as likely as people in California to own or have access to guns. Therefore we can expect that Massachusetts (which has 2.11% of the total population) would have a proportional number of firearms related fatalities among children (2.11% of 48) or roughly 1.0128 children per year. Over the three year period they studied we would expect that about three to four children would be accidentally killed with a firearm.
OK. USA Today and the Associated Press are proclaiming that Massachusetts’ gun laws are preventing accidental deaths in children because there was “only” one accidental death. When taken at face value, most people will naturally assume that the “normal” accidental death rate is significantly higher and that a single death is an amazing achievement. In reality, while there appears to be a decrease in the number of accidental deaths they have “saved” a grand total of two children. As a percentage that’s an amazing reduction, but when looking at the raw data that number is so insignificantly small that no possible analysis can be derived from it.
There’s no way to know for sure what impact the “safe storage” laws are having on accidental fatalities among children because the numbers are already so small. Only 48 children per year die from accidental firearms discharges, and an even smaller percentage of those are actually from the situation gun control groups constantly proclaim is a huge issue: children playing with “found” guns. In reality that almost never happens. What does happen, on the other hand, are incidents like this one where an unarmed couple was murdered in their house in Boston. Two people whose lives could have been saved if, perhaps, they had been able to defend themselves with a firearm.
Is the Associated Press technically correct, that a single accidental death is remarkable? Sure. But proclaiming that this is solid and incontrovertible proof that “safe storage” laws save lives is as scientifically sound as proclaiming that worshiping Baal saves your computer from ransomware infections.