published Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

South leads U.S. in children's firearms deaths

BY THE NUMBERS

Number of unintentional firearm deaths among children ages infant to 14 years old in the United States.

2005 -- 75

2006 -- 54

2007 -- 65

2008 -- 62

2009 -- 48

Total -- 304

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

GUN SAFETY WITH CHILDREN

• Always stow the gun and ammunition separately, and keep the gun out of reach.

• With a semi-automatic: Take out the gun's magazine and lock it away separately. Use devices such as trigger locks or D-rings with cable locks to prevent the gun from being loaded.

• With a revolver: Open the gun's cylinder, pull a cable lock through the opening, and bolt it to the wall at a height a child cannot reach. "That way it can't be removed and it can't be loaded," said Joe Kochis, instructor at Shooter's Depot.

• Explain to children what a gun is and what it can do. Instruct them never to touch firearms unless they are with you and the gun is not loaded. "Explain it could hurt you, your mom, your dad, your brothers your sisters, your friends," Kochis said.

• Don't just tell children to stay out of the gun cabinet. Such warnings may just make a child more curious.

Source: Shooter's Depot

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On average, 60 children under age 14 die in the United States each year from unintentional shootings.

And in the last two years, three such deaths have occurred in the Chattanooga area -- two within the last few days -- and all in the presence of other children.

The latest victim was Cassie Culpepper, an 11-year-old from Whitfield County, Ga., who police say was shot in the face by her 12-year-old brother late Friday night.

On Wednesday, 3-year-old Kydalynn Graham accidentally shot herself in the face at a home in Cleveland, investigators say. She and her 2-year-old cousin were playing at the home of her grandfather, a Tennessee Highway Patrol lieutenant, when she found a .45-caliber handgun.

In the summer of 2010, 2-year-old Camron Wallace, of Chattanooga, was killed when her 5-year-old stepbrother accidentally shot her in the chest with a handgun the children found in their parents' nightstand.

Between 2005 and 2009 -- the latest data available -- 304 children under age 14 were killed in unintentional firearms deaths across the country, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The South leads the nation in such deaths, recording well over half of the total fatalities in the last five years, CDC data show.

"That doesn't include population data or analysis, so we aren't able to draw conclusions about that at this point," said Gail Hayes, press secretary at the CDC Injury Center.

According to a 2005 article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 10 percent of households with children under age 18 kept a loaded gun in the home -- exposing an estimated 136,300 youth.

The same study shows that 46 percent of Tennessee households with firearms kept the gun in the home, with about 12 percent keeping the guns loaded and 6.6 percent keeping a firearm loaded and unlocked.

Joe Kochis, an instructor at Chattanooga firearms store and shooting range Shooter's Depot, said gun training must always involve lessons about keeping a weapon in the home.

"I tell my students clearly, 'With ownership comes with responsibility' -- whether you have young children or not," he said. "You may have guests. ... One little careless second and it can happen in the blink of an eye. To have [a gun] available and accessible to a child can be a tragic mistake."

Camron Wallace's parents, Tom and Samantha Wallace, have been charged with criminally negligent homicide and face trial in September.

Investigations into Cassie Culpepper's and Kydalynn Graham's deaths are ongoing.

Kydalynn's grandfather, THP Lt. Tommie Graham, owns the home where she was shot, but it is unclear who owned the weapon she used or where the children found it.

Kochis, a former officer with the New Jersey State Police, said law enforcement officials are given stark warnings about handling their firearms in their home.

"One of the first things we were told was that we had a responsibility to safeguard that firearm," he said. "We were told to explain to our wives, our children, that there would be a gun in the home, and how to maintain a safe environment."

But Kochis said that however the accident occurred that killed Kydalynn, he feels for the little girl's family.

"I know it's hard on all of them," he said.

Services were held Saturday for Kydalynn, who was described as "the bright and shining light" of her mother, grandparents and friends in her obituary.

"She greeted the world with a vibrant, wide-eyed smile that will never be forgotten. She was loved by all who met her, and will be greatly and desperately missed."

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