On Sunday in Cleveland, 1-year-old Braylon Robinson was killed by another child who had picked up an unattended firearm.
It wasn't an isolated incident. Robinson was at least the 24th child this year to die from an accidental gunshot wound.
Daily Kos contributing editor David Waldman has been tracking the number of "accidental" shootings of children under age 15 reported in the media and reposting them to Pinterest. Robinson, Waldman reports, is the 24th child to show up on his list so far in 2015. Last year, he reported 90 such incidents.
Waldman's tally is much higher than the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count of an average of 62 childhood deaths from firearm per year between 2007 and 2011, a number Everytown For Gun Safety notes already makes the U.S. one of the deadliest nations in the world when it comes to accidental shootings of children.
Americans don't understand how bad our gun problem is. In fact, we're dramatically undercounting the number of kids harmed by firearms each year. A 2013 New York Times investigation by Michael Luo and Mike McIntire reviewed hundreds of child firearm deaths and found that "accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate," debunking the National Rifle Association's insistence that firearms kill kids less often than "falls, poisoning or environmental factors."
In 2011, the New York Times found, the CDC reported an additional 847 "unintentional nonfatal firearms injuries among children 14 and under" — itself likely an incorrect tally, because just a handful of states keep statistics on the number of kids turning up in hospital emergency rooms with gunshot wounds.
"The official CDC numbers depend on how the deaths are designated by medical examiners, and there are no consistent standards for determining whether a death is 'accidental,' nor any consistent taxonomy for report deaths even once they're determined to be accidental," Waldman told Mic over email. "To figure out the 'true' number, you'd just have to comb through the death certificates and medical examiners' records for every single gunshot death among kids aged 14 and under."
After reading hundreds of reports, Waldman says, it became clear that many of the accidents must have been the result of negligence, such as cleaning a gun or shooting though a wall when a child is in the next room. Nevertheless, that's not really an excuse. Considering the lack of hard data and facts surrounding many cases of accidental gun deaths, it's almost impossible to entirely write off these "accidents" as nothing more than freak incidents where someone was otherwise following all the rules of gun safety.
"It should be noted, though, that although its entirely possible that these folks really were cleaning their guns, 'cleaning' also sounds a lot better for the police reports than admitting they were posing with them in front of mirrors, spinning them cowboy-style on their fingers or racking them repeatedly because they make such a badass sound," Waldman told Mic.
What can be done about it: It's likely true that a number of these children who died from accidental gun shots could have been saved had proper safety procedures been followed, but it's not just as simple as encouraging gun owners that they need to be more careful.
While gun owners are quick to assert that there's not really such a thing as a gun "accident," since someone has to discharge the firearm, the evidence suggests that many firearms owners aren't doing a good job of avoiding unintentional injuries and deaths.
But since guns are so widespread and dangerous, the only thing that might reduce the number of firearm-related deaths and injuries is reducing the number of firearms. With hundreds of millions of guns in private hands across the country and gun activists largely winning the national argument over firearms, that's a Herculean task with no easy options.
Though the NRA was originally founded with a greater focus on gun safety and proper fire arm usage in the late 1800s, by the 1970s the group shifted its focus towards conservative politics and full gun-ownership rights. So the organization that at one time could have been the best equipped to rein in gun issues and help with gun safety is now on the side of protecting gun-ownership rights.
While it's too aggressive to blame the NRA for these children's deaths, the general climate of relaxed gun-control laws in America is leading to tens of thousands of gun deaths every year. Whether on purpose or by accident, one thing is clear: This needs to stop.