In­ci­dents spike dur­ing the hol­i­days

Al­co­hol, gifts, hunt­ing and unat­tended chil­dren con­trib­ute to the high rate.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ryan J. Fo­ley and Meghan Hoyer

The hap­pi­est of sea­sons is also among the dead­li­est: Un­in­ten­tional shoot­ings spike in the U.S. dur­ing the hol­i­days and are more likely to oc­cur than at any other time of year, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The As­so­ci­ated Press and USA Today.

In all, 32 peo­ple were killed na­tion­wide and 59 in­jured over the past two years from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, which the anal­y­sis iden­ti­fied as the most likely day for ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings each year. The vic­tims were mostly male and young, with a me­dian age of 19. Nearly half the shoot­ings were self-in­flicted, and most oc­curred in their own homes.

The vic­tims are peo­ple such as Te­zlar Wayne Ross, a 20-year-old from Gaffney, S.C., who killed him­self while play­ing with a hand­gun at his home last New Year’s Eve. His girl­friend and two other friends wit­nessed the ac­ci­dent in Ross’ bed­room, Chero­kee County Coroner Den­nis Fowler said. Al­co­hol was not in­volved.

“They were ab­so­lutely clown­ing around,” Fowler said. “And some­times that in­no­cent fun, es­pe­cially with a gun, can get you in trou­ble. A weapon like that is not a toy.” Sev­eral fac­tors con­trib­ute to the in­crease: • Chil­dren and teenagers are out of school for the hol­i­days and have ac­cess to un­se­cured guns at their homes and those of rel­a­tives and friends.

• Adults are drink­ing al­co­hol and are inat­ten­tive to gun safety or their chil­dren.

• New guns are given as gifts in the tens of thou­sands. • It’s a pop­u­lar time of year for hunt­ing. The count does not in­clude three deaths and 16 in­juries in­volv­ing guns fired into the air to cel­e­brate the New Year.

The AP and USA Today looked at hol­i­day shoot­ings af­ter an ear­lier in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings in­volv­ing chil­dren hap­pen far more of­ten than fed­eral gov­ern­ment statis­tics show. Based on in­ci­dents com­piled by the Gun Vi­o­lence Archive, they found that more than 320 mi­nors were killed by un­in­ten­tional shoot­ings over a 2½-year pe­riod that ended June 30.

For those who have lost loved ones in hol­i­day shoot­ings, the sea­son is never again the same. In re­cent in­ter­views, the moth­ers of two teenage vic­tims urged fam­i­lies to be aware of the height­ened sea­sonal risk and take pre­cau­tions to pre­vent un­nec­es­sary gun deaths.

“Al­co­hol and guns don’t mix,” warned Teka Rus­sell, 43, of Frank­fort, Ky., whose 16year-old son, D’no­m­yar “Denom” Rus­sell, was shot dur­ing a fam­ily Christmas gath­er­ing in 2014.

Denom’s older brother, who was 21 at the time, had re­ceived a hand­gun as a gift ear­lier in the day for self-pro­tec­tion. Af­ter a fam­ily dinner, the adults were drink­ing while Denom played a video game, and one rel­a­tive shot the gun into a couch to see if it was loaded, Rus­sell said.

Denom’s brother “freaked out” and started tak­ing bul­lets out of the gun, which ac­ci­den­tally dis­charged as Denom walked around the cor­ner, she said.

The death was ruled an ac­ci­dent, and no charges were filed. The fam­ily didn’t get to­gether last year for Christmas; Rus­sell said she will try to cel­e­brate the hol­i­day this year for her chil­dren. “I don’t want it to al­ways be re­mem­bered as a bad day,” she said.

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