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The number of accidental shooting deaths in the United States has been slowly declining for many years, although there was a slight jump in the number of deaths in 2008, the last year for which we have statistics. In 2008 there were 680 accidental shooting deaths in the United States, with more than 15,500 shooting injuries. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the number of children involved in accidental shootings. Every day approximately five children are injured or killed on a nationwide basis as a result of handguns. The primary cause of youth-involved shooting rests with the fact that children find loaded handguns in the home – and natural curiosity leads them down the road to disaster.
Each year approximately 100 people are injured or killed while cleaning a firearm and failing to exercise proper caution. Every gun, whether loaded or unloaded, must be treated as if it is loaded at all times.  Many accidental shootings occur because someone believes a gun is unloaded, points it at someone and pulls the trigger as a “joke.” The problem is, many guns can still fire even after the magazine has been removed if a bullet has been inadvertently left in the chamber.

The Problem Could Get Worse

Every time a gun is drawn the possibility of an accidental shooting exists and with more and more police officers and others now training for possible terrorist attacks, the possibility of accidental shootings may likewise increase. There are indications that this is already a problem. The incidents of SWAT-officer-involved accidental shootings have been on the increase in recent years.

Hunting Accidents

Hunting accidents account for approximately 160 accidental shootings each year, with an average of 50 fatalities. The primary cause for most hunting accidents lies with the fact that many hunters have little or no formal training in the use and handing of firearms. Many hunters are introduced to the sport by a parent or relative and their safety training is scant or non-existent. A requirement that every hunter attend a gun safety class before being issued a hunting license could go a long way toward reducing the number of hunting accidents, but the logistics of such a proposal, as well as the cost involved, make this an unlikely scenario.

What Can Be Done?

According to the American Rifle Association and others, education is the answer. Gun owners and those who live around firearms, including children, must be taught the proper use and treatment of firearms before a weapon is allowed into a home. Gun safety education must become mandatory for all gun owners and their families. Even law enforcement officers need more and better instruction in the safe use and handling of firearms, as many accidental shootings involve law enforcement officers.

An Emotional Issue

The unrestricted ownership and use of firearms is a hot-button emotional issue in the United States and any attempt to resolve the problem of accidental shootings must take this reality into consideration. Yet there must be a balance between public safety when it comes to accidental shootings and the rights of Americans to hunt and to defend themselves.

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