Last updated: 3/03/2002|GunCite Home|
Gun Accidents (and Kids & Gun Accidents)


A fatal gun accident, particularly when a child is involved, often makes state or national news. This gives the impression that: fatal gun accidents are more prevalent than other fatal accidents, gun accidents are increasing, and civilian gun ownership must be further restricted or regulated.

The reality does not correspond to the perception created by media coverage. Fatal gun accidents declined by almost sixty percent from 1975 to 1995, even though the number of guns per capita increased by almost forty percent.

Fatal gun accidents involving children (aged 0-14) also fell significantly, from 495 in 1975, to under 250 in 1995. More children die from accidental drownings or burns than from gun accidents.

(Gun supply statistics are from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, gun accident rates from the National Safety Council).


Examining the fatal accident table below, one sees that fatal gun accidents among children are rare. Gun control groups and pro-control medical researchers often include "children" up to the age of nineteen and in some cases twenty-four, to inflate the number of "child" gun accidents. (This is the only way it can be claimed a child is killed everyday in a gun accident. Compare fatal gun accidents to the number of kids killed while crossing the street.) The solutions one may propose to prevent child accidents should differ from those of young adults. For example pressure sensitive pistol grips won't help much when older "kids" are playing Russian Roulette, especially in places where it's legal for eighteen or twenty-one year-olds to own firearms.

As rare as fatal gun accidents are among young children, their actual frequency is probably overstated. Florida State University criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck suggests that some fatal gun accidents may actually be the culmination of a history of child abuse, in other words intentional homicides. Dr. Kleck cites a national survey conducted in 1976 (Strauss, M., et. al., Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family, Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1981), which found "3% of children had, in the previous year, had guns or knives (the two are combined in the source) actually used on them by their parents, according to the parents' own admissions. Since this translates into about 46,000 such incidents per year, it would not be surprising if a few dozen resulted in a gun death falsely reported as accidental."(Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, p 209. Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York, 1997.)

Dr. Kleck further mentions, "The risk of being a victim of a fatal gun accident can be better appreciated if it is compared to a more familiar risk...Each year about five hundred children under the age of five accidentally drown in residential swimming pools, compared to about forty killed in gun accidents, despite the fact that there are only about five million households with swimming pools, compared to at least 43 million with guns. Thus, based on owning households, the risk of a fatal accident among small children is over one hundred times higher for swimming pools than for guns." (p 296)

In Targeting Guns, Dr. Kleck concludes in part, "Most gun accidents occur in the home, many (perhaps most) of them involving guns kept for defense. However, very few accidents occur in connection with actual defensive uses of guns. Gun accidents are generally committed by unusually reckless people with records of heavy drinking, repeated involvement in automobile crashes, many traffic citations, and prior arrests for assault. Gun accidents, then, involve a rare and atypical subset of the population, as both shooters and victims. They rarely involve children, and most commonly involve adolescents and young adults."

"The risk of a gun accident is extremely low, even among defensive gun owners, except among a very small, identifiably high-risk subset of the population. Consequently, it is doubtful whether, for the average gun owner, the risk of a gun accident could counterbalance the benefits of keeping a gun in the home for protection: the risk of an accident is quite low overall, and is virtually nonexistent for most gun owners." (p 321)

Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, 2000 (Estimates) (Chart compiled by GunCite. Source of data, except as noted, National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2001 Edition, pp. 8-9, 84)

Accident Type Age
0-4 5-14 15-24 25-44 45-64 65-74 75+ Total
All Automobile 900 1,500 10,500 13,300 9,200 2,700 4,900 43,000
Falls 70 70 210 950 1,900 1,700 11,300 16,200
Poisoning by solids, liquids 60 40 800 6,800 3,200 300 500 11,700
Pedestrian1 250 300 750 1,300 1,400 450 850 5,300
Drowning 450 350 700 1,250 650 230 270 3,900
Fires, burns 400 260 240 700 800 500 700 3,600
Suffocation by ingested object 100 20 30 250 400 500 2,100 3,400
Firearms 20 60 150 190 110 30 40 600
Poisoning by gases, vapors 10 10 70 120 80 40 70 400
All other causes 700 400 1,100 3,000 3,200 1,600 4,500 14,500
TOTAL 2,700 2,700 13,800 26,600 19,500 7,600 24,400 97,300

Fatal gun accidents often receive national attention. Subsequently politicians demand mandatory firearms safety classes for all gun owners, yet many more lives could be saved by randomly selecting and educating a group of drivers rather than gun owners, not to mention the populace at large regarding, administering first-aid, how to eat, and basic common sense safety habits. (It is not being suggested that such training be offered or mandated.)


  1. Pedestrian fatalities are also included in motor vehicle fatalities. They are broken-out on a separate line to illustrate how often pedestrian fatalities occur.

    Also not broken-out from motor vehicle fatalites are bicycle fatalities which claimed about 800 deaths in 2000 (Injury Facts p. 85).

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