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Everytown Releases New Research Highlighting 2023 as Worst Year for Unintentional Shootings by Children, Pennsylvania Ranks Above the National Average for Frequency of These Preventable Tragedies from 2015-2023

March 21, 2024

Harrisburg, PA – Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund has released new data highlighting the devastating rise in unintentional shootings by children, finding that 2023 had the highest number of incidents since Everytown started tracking them in 2015. In fact, the annual number of unintentional shootings by children surpassed 400 for the first time since Everytown began its tracking. Everytown’s research also shows that Pennsylvania saw 128 unintentional shooting incidents by children from 2015-2023.

“This new data is absolutely tragic and yet another reminder that our lax gun laws are continuing to fail children and teens in our communities,” said Marlene Ozel, a volunteer with the Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Every life lost due to an unintentional shooting is preventable – and as this data proves that the secure storage of firearms is one of the key tools we have to prevent these tragedies. We have been advocating for a strong secure storage law in Pennsylvania that would help prevent these unintentional shootings and we’re calling on our lawmakers in the House to pass it this year.” 

Last fall, lawmakers adjourned without voting on a critical bill to require a firearm to be stored securely any time it is not in use. With the second year of Pennsylvania’s two-year legislative session having started last week, House lawmakers will once again have the opportunity to vote on this piece of lifesaving legislation and send it to the Senate. Lawmakers in the House also passed two critical pieces of gun violence legislation including an Extreme Risk law and expanded background check requirement to cover sales of all firearms by unlicensed sellers, which have yet to be introduced in the Senate. 

Key findings from the new data include:

  • The two age groups most likely to unintentionally shoot themself or others are high schoolers between the ages of 14 and 17, followed by preschoolers ages five and younger.
  • The victims of shootings by children are most often also children. Over nine in 10 of those wounded or killed in unintentional shootings by children were also under 18 years old.
  • Nearly one in every three unintentional shooters were five years old and younger. Over one thousand toddlers and preschoolers since 2015 have come upon a loaded firearm and shot themself or someone else.   
  • When children unintentionally shoot another person, the victim is most often a sibling or a friend.
  • More than seven in 10 unintentional child shootings occur in or around homes.
  • Unintentional shootings occur most frequently at times when children are likely to be home: over the weekend and in the summer.
  • Handguns account for the bulk of gun types accessed by children in unintentional shootings. 
  • The states with the highest rates of unintentional shootings by children — Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama — have weak or no firearm storage laws, while the states with the lowest rates all have storage laws — Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and California.
  • 2023 saw the highest number of incidents (411), injuries (270) and total victims (427).

This one-of-a-kind dataset allows us to identify solutions. Knowing that these shootings largely occur in and around homes and on weekends and over the summer—when children are likely to be home—points to secure firearm storage as a critical answer. Unintentional shootings by children are not accidents, as they are almost always preventable with secure firearm storage practices, awareness, and policies. These avoidable tragedies cause physical and emotional suffering that persists far beyond the initial incident and leave scars on people far beyond the immediate families of those involved. 

Research shows the most effective way to prevent an unintentional shooting is to make sure firearms are stored as securely as possible. That means unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. Firearms are not stored securely when they’re placed in an unlocked dresser or nightstand drawer, under a couch cushion, mattress, or pillow, in an unlocked closet, on a high shelf or on top of the refrigerator. 

In an average year, 1,713 people die by guns in Pennsylvania and another 1,992 are wounded. Gun violence costs Pennsylvania $21.7 billion each year, of which $470.7 million is paid by taxpayers. More information about gun violence Pennsylvania is available here.

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