Incidents spike during the holidays
Alcohol, gifts, hunting and unattended children contribute to the high rate.
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.