WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Accidental deaths involving children and guns are no stranger to the national spotlight. Time after time, year after year, these tragic stories make headlines. They all tell a similar story… A child found a gun and accidentally shot themselves or someone else.
Most recently, last month in Wisconsin, when a child got a hold of a gun in a car, shot it, and killed the driver.
According to data compiled by the gun control advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, since January 2015, more than 350 child-involved shootings have been reported across the United States. Of those, more than 230 resulted in injury of the child and/or someone else, and nearly 125 resulted in death.
So far in 2016, at least 77 child shootings have been reported in the U.S.
In 2015, there were at least 278 child shootings. Of those 278 includes the tragic case of a Hutchinson, Kansas 3-year-old. On December 11, 2015, an accidental shooting took the life of Kaden Hagle, the toddler son of a Reno County sheriff’s deputy.
Reno County Sheriff pushing gun locks after child tragedy involving one of his deputies.
Sheriff Randy Henderson said young Kaden found a loaded handgun in the apartment his father shared with another person. Kaden’s father, Deputy Andrew Nagle, reportedly heard a gunshot, and ran into another room where he found Kaden with a gunshot wound. The boy later passed away. We later learned from the district attorney that the handgun was not the deputy’s in this case.
A Controlled Test:
Due to the sheer number of accidental shootings involving guns in the hands of children, KSN News put local children to the test.
The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with KSN News to test how children react when they find what they believe is a real gun.
It is important to note that KSN did not use a real handgun in this test. It is an unloaded BB gun given to us by the sheriff’s office, as Sheriff Jeff Easter and Lieutenant Lin Dehning monitor the test to ensure its safety.
“This is a replica Colt defender, which would look like a 9-millimeter handgun,” explained Sedgwick Co. Sheriff Jeff Easter. “It’s actually a 4.5-millimeter BB gun.”
Sheriff Easter explained further that the BB gun is brand new, just out of its package for this demonstration. However, as the sheriff explained, “It looks [and] feels the same as a regular handgun.”
With the permission and complete cooperation of their parents, fully aware of the nature of our test and looking on through a live video feed we set up for them to view the events as they unfolded live from another room inside the KSN News station, we began.
Seven children, ages 3 to 7, came to the KSN News studio one evening for our crews to put them to the test. Their parents are fully aware of the test and how we are carrying it out. The parents are also aware that an unloaded BB gun, given to us by the Sedgwick Co. Sheriff’s Office for this specific task, is in the studio along with several toy distractions for the seven kids. The parents want to know how their children will react if and when they spot the BB gun in the studio.
KSN’s Brittany Glas set out to perform a certain ‘social experiment’ of sorts, to learn whether our child participants knew what they should do when they encounter what they believe is a real gun. What happened may surprise you.
The question at-hand: With no adults to be found, how would children react if they see what they believe to be a real gun? What would they do?
Although the BB gun is not a real handgun, Sheriff Easter still believes the gun will be a temptation to the kids involved in this test.
“Do I think there’s going to be at least two kids that probably go over and reach for this thing? Yes,” said Sheriff Easter.
Play By Play:
Before the test began, Sheriff Easter set up the unloaded BB gun just off to the side of the test area in our back studio. As recommended by the sheriff, KSN chose to place the gun in the open, but separate from where all of the toys were placed. Sheriff Easter told KSN that so often, guns are left out in a common area of a home – on a table or in a drawer – and not hidden or locked away from children’s view or reach. Our set up, then, was a more accurate portrayal of what law enforcement too often sees when they respond to tragedies of this nature.
Once the gun’s placement was complete, KSN’s Brittany Glas led the kids to our KSN back studio—a room filled with plenty of toy distractions. The unloaded BB gun was set up just off to the side of our “makeshift toy room.”
We asked the kids to hang out in the studio while we spoke with their parents. That’s when we shut the studio doors and started the timer.
The kids begin to play with the toys we’ve set up in the studio. But, it doesn’t take long before the mood in the room takes a dramatic shift.
“I was surprised at how tense it got when it was spotted and they all just kind of gathered around,” said Kevin White, the grandfather of 6-year-old, Gabriel. “It was the tension–the way the tension just ratcheted up.”
“I thought for sure that somebody would be carrying it around and pointing it,” continued White.
At 2 minutes 48 seconds in to our test, the gun is first spotted from across the room. Seven-year-old Nathan sees it and begins walking toward the gun.
Nathan announces to the group, “Hey, guys! Look at that! I found a gun.” His announcement draws little attention from the other children, easily distracted with other toys in the room. Seemingly uninterested himself at this point, Nathan turns his back on the gun.
However, not even 5 seconds pass, when Nathan spots four-year-old Brigid getting a little too close to his discovery. At exactly 3 minutes into our test, Nathan whispers to the little girl, “Don’t touch it.”
The kids continue playing.
At 6 minutes 26 seconds in to our test, six-year-old Gabriel spots the gun. This time, Gabriel’s announcement draws the attention of more of the boys.
Walking toward the gun Gabriel says, “Woah! Wow! There’s a pistol over here!”
Nathan walks toward them and says, “Don’t touch it.”
Bradyn is interested in the new discovery.
“Yeah, a pistol!” he chimes in with excitement.
Nathan responds the same way: “Don’t touch it!”
Seconds later, you hear a soft voice coming from behind the scene of the action. Five-year-old Brock poses a serious question to the group:
“What do you do if you see a real gun?”
Answering the question himself, Brock says, “Tell an adult.”
Ten seconds later, Gabriel is drawn to the gun, once again.
Gabriel: “Why is there a pistol in here?”
Brock: “I don’t know.”
That’s when Brock picks up the BB gun and holds it for two seconds before Nathan, while physically pulling Brock away from the gun, instructs him again, “Don’t touch it!”
Bradyn issues another set of instructions to the entire group:
“Whoever touches that, don’t touch it. Or, don’t shoot it.”
The boys debate the danger of the BB gun, believing it is a real handgun.
Brock: “…What if there’s real bullets in it?”
Gabriel: “What do you mean ‘real’ bullets? It’s a real gun. What if there is bullets in there?”
Brock: “Yeah, what if you push that?” pointing at the trigger. “Then a real bullet would come out.”
“It’s nerve-racking any time there’s a gun involved with kids,” said Cassi Flower, Bradyn and Brock’s mother. “I was just hoping and praying that they would leave it alone.”
Nathan then enters the scene again, taking a role that impresses both the sheriff and our parents… Nathan, in a very serious tone says, “Stop touching it.” He then creates a physical barrier, multiple times throughout the next few minutes, between the rest of the kids and the gun.
Nathan: “Guys, get away from it.”
At one point, one of the young girls skips in the direction of the gun. Nathan grabs her and physically changes her direction out of the path of the gun. She is no longer in reach of the gun.
It’s a sobering moment for the girls’ mom.
“Oh, I am so grateful,” said Rachel Harpenau.
It is a thought-provoking moment for law enforcement, standing by.
“If that would have been a real situation with a real gun, Nathan just saved the life of every kid in that room,” said Lt. Lin Dehning. “He took care of the other kids.”
After about 13 total minutes, KSN calls it and re-enters our back studio. This time, however, Brittany Glas is accompanied by Sedgwick Co. Sheriff Easter and Lt. Dehning. Once we enter, almost immediately, Brock and Bradyn alert the adults in the room to the gun.
“There’s a gun,” said Bradyn. Pointing to the BB gun on the other side of the room, Brock continued, “Yeah, there’s a real gun right there!”
Sheriff Jeff Easter sits down the kids to discuss gun safety.
Sheriff Easter: “If you see a gun somewhere, what do we not do?”
Kids (in unison): “Don’t touch it, or pick it up.”
Sheriff Easter: “Correct… and then what do you do?”
Kids (in unison): “Tell an adult!”
For Brock’s parents, the exercise provided a sense of relief that their message got through to their 5-year-old… at least to a degree.
“I heard him [Brock] say exactly what we’ve been telling him to say,” said Frank Flower, the boy’s father. “Stop. ‘What do we do when we see a gun?’”
“But, it still didn’t stop him from going over and checking it out,” he continued.
Overall though, the Flowers were pleased.
“I’m really happy with the way everything turned out,” said Flower. “I was really happy that [they] immediately told the adult that walked in the room that there was a gun.”
Other parents were shocked at how the children responded.
“I was honestly surprised he [Nathan] protected everybody else from the gun,” explained Andrea Baker, Nathan’s mother.
Even Nathan said he realized the danger of what could have been.
“I just thought it had bullets in it,” he explained plainly. “If someone picked it up, they might have had their finger on the trigger and pulled it.”
“I wanted to keep them safe,” Nathan continued.
Results & Analysis:
In the fewer than 15 minute time period the kids were in the back studio, under multi-camera surveillance, only two of the seven children ever touched the BB gun. Brock, 5, our youngest boy and as his parents told us, the child fascinated by what he has called “shooters,” or guns, touched it first. Before Nathan intervened at one time, Brock held the gun for two full seconds.
Shortly after this encounter, after Nathan thought he had escorted all of the children away from the gun, Nathan’s 6-year-old little brother, Luke, graced the surface of the gun behind his big brother’s line of sight.
In fact, it wasn’t until after the time was up and after reviewing multi-camera views that KSN learned about these two incidents because they were too small motions to be captured on the studio’s wide-angle, stationary camera shot that provided the live camera video to our participating parents.
Perhaps most unexpected though, was the fact that no child ever pointed the gun at another child during the course of the entire demonstration.
Before the test got started, Sheriff Jeff Easter predicted that at least two kids would go over and touch or grab the gun. It’s “kids’ nature,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, even if they’ve had education, that they don’t go walking right over and pick up that weapon though,” said Easter. “That would not surprise me.”
After the test finished, Sheriff Easter said, “I still believe that would have happened if it wasn’t for Nathan intervening like he did.”
Law enforcement officers said they thought another child would have picked up the gun or played with it, were it not for Nathan’s protective instincts.
“I expected that at least one or more of those kids would pick up that gun and play with it and point it around, because you know, kids play with guns. It was lying there,” said Lt. Dehning.
In fact, most parents involved expected their child to pick up the BB gun.
“Honestly, I have three boys and you never know what’s going to happen,” said Baker. “We’ve had a lot of talks about guns.”
Overall, the parents were relieved.
“I’ve never really seen him around a real life gun before, so, I wasn’t sure how he’d react,” said Baker. “I’m proud.”
All things considered, “I think it went amazingly great,” said Cassi Flower.
The sheriff stressed the importance of education and communication.
“These are parents that, they obviously have had talks with their kids, which is great because that’s exactly what we tell parents to do,” said Sheriff Easter. “[Parents should] have those kinds of discussions with [their] kids because you never know when they might find a gun loaded or unloaded,” added Easter.
Gun Safety: Tips for you & your family
According to the National Rifle Association, or NRA, since the establishment of the association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program in 1988, more than 28 million pre-kindergarten to fourth grade children have learned that if they see a firearm in an unsupervised situation, they should “STOP. DON’T TOUCH. RUN AWAY. TELL A GROWNUP.”
According to the NRA’s website, the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program is a “gun accident prevention program that seeks to help parents, law enforcement, community groups and educators navigate a topic paramount to our children’s safety. Eddie and his Wing Team are on a mission to help you teach Pre-K through 4th graders what to do if they ever come across a gun.”
The program teaches four steps. They are:
- STOP! – This first step is crucial. Stopping first allows your child the time he or she needs to remember the rest of the safety instructions.
- Don’t Touch – A firearm that is not touched or disturbed is unlikely to be fired and otherwise endanger your child or other people.
- Run Away – This removes the temptation to touch the firearm as well as the danger that another person may negligently cause it to fire.
- Tell a Grown-up – Children should seek a trustworthy adult, neighbor, relative or teacher – if a parent or guardian is not available.
The NRA recommends that parents have a conversation with their children about guns and gun safety.
NRA VIDEO | Learn Gun Safety with Eddie Eagle and the Wing Team
While there is no specific age to talk with your child about gun safety, a good time to introduce the subject is when he or she shows an interest in firearms. The interest can come from family members, friends, toy guns, video games or television shows and movies. Talking openly and honestly about gun safety with your child is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to “Stay out of the gun closet,” and leaving it at that. Such a statement may just stimulate a child’s natural curiosity to investigate further.
Instead talk with them by asking opened ended questions. After having a broad discussion on safety, discuss firearm safety, the rules for firearms and what your child should do when they see a gun in an unsupervised situation. As with any safety lesson, explaining the rules and answering a child’s questions can help remove the mystery surrounding guns. Any rules you set for your own child should also apply to family members and friends who visit the home. This will keep your child from being pressured into showing a gun to visitors.
Ten Tips for Firearm Safety in Your Home
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF’s Top Ten Safety Tips include:
- Always keep the firearm’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction. A “safe direction” means that the gun is pointed so that even if an accidental discharge occurred, it would not result in injury.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until you actually intend to shoot. When handling a gun, rest your finger outside the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Don’t touch the trigger until you are actually ready to fire.
- Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use. Whenever you pick up a gun, such as when removing it from or returning it to storage, remember to point it in a safe direction and make sure it is unloaded.
- Be sure you know how your firearm operates: read the manual on your firearm, know how to safely open and close the action of the firearm and know how to safely remove any ammunition from the firearm and its magazine.
- Store your firearms in a locked cabinet, safe, gun vault or storage case when not in use, ensuring they are in a location inaccessible by children and cannot be handled by anyone without your permission.
- Store your ammunition in a locked location separate from firearms.
- Use a gun locking device that renders the firearm inoperable when not in use. A gun lock should be used as an additional safety precaution and not as a substitute for secure storage.
- Make sure young people in your home are aware of and understand the safety guidelines concerning firearms. Have them sign the Project ChildSafe Pledge for young people — a reminder that if they find an unattended firearm in their home or a neighbor’s to not touch it, and tell an adult.
- Always unload, clean and place your firearms in their secure storage location immediately after returning from a hunting trip or a day at the range.
- Educate everyone in your family about firearms safety. Visit the Project ChildSafe website for safety information and to find out where to get a free firearm safety kit in your area.
If you would like a free Project ChildSafe Safety Kit, which includes a gun lock and safety instructions, click here.
*The National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF, launched Project ChildSafe in 1998 (prior to 2003 the program was called Project HomeSafe) as a nationwide initiative to promote firearms responsibility and provide safety education to all gun owners. While children are a focus, Project ChildSafe is intended to help young people and adults practice greater firearm safety in the home.
- NRA | “6 Ways To Safely Store Your Firearm“, an NRA Family article, which includes helpful options ranging from trigger locks to gun safes, click the link above.
- NRA | Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program
- NSSF | Top Ten Safety Tips
- NSSF | Project ChildSafe Pledge for young people
- NSSF | Project ChildSafe website
- NSSF | Project ChildSafe Safety Kit (Kansas link)
- Dec 14, 2015: Reno County Sheriff pushing gun locks after child tragedy with one of his deputies
- Aug 16, 2014: Toddler taken to hospital with self-inflicted gun wound
- Jul 29, 2014: Police identify 3-year-old boy killed in accidental shooting
- Apr 29, 2014: 1-year-old Wichita child dies after being shot
- May 9, 2016: Detroit chief laments violence after 7 weekend deaths (including 9-year-old who shot himself while showing mother a gun)
- May 1, 2016: WP.com | Toddlers have shot at least 23 people this year
- Nov 12, 2015: NBC | Recent Shootings Reflect Grim Frequency of Child Gun Deaths
- Apr 27, 2016: Child gets hold of gun in car, kills driver
- Mar 22, 2016: Authorities want charge for mom of 4-year-old who shot her
- Mar 9, 2016: Pro-gun activist accidentally shot by 4-year-old son
- Feb 4, 2016: 11-year-old found guilty of murdering elementary student
- Oct 18, 2015: 6-year-old boy fatally shoots 3-year-old brother in Chicago
- Aug 25, 2015: Student playing with gun shoots child at Georgia school
- Aug 19, 2015: Police: Man apparently shot, killed by toddler son in accident
- Feb 1, 2015: US toddler wounds both parents with 1 shot from handgun
- Jan 22, 2015: Toddler dies from self-inflicted gunshot
- Jan 10, 2015: Police: Videos show 1-year-old putting handgun in mouth
- Dec 31, 2014: 2-year-old accidentally kills his mom in Wal-Mart
- Nov 22, 2014: Report: Washington toddler shot playing with gun
- Nov 16, 2014: Mom charged after boy accidentally shoots sister