Hol­i­days see spike in ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing deaths

In­juries also on rise at year’s end

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - 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 any other time of the year, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The As­so­ci­ated Press and the USA To­day Net­work.

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 like Te­zlar Wayne Ross, a 20-year-old from Gaffney, South Carolina, 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,” Mr. 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 inat­ten­tive to gun safety or their chil­dren.

● New guns are given and re­ceived 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 Net­work 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, Ken­tucky, whose 16-year-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, Ms. Rus­sell said.

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

The death was ruled an ac­ci­dent and no charges were filed. The fam­ily is still strug­gling with­out Denom, who was re­mem­bered as a happy-go-lucky high school fresh­man who helped lift up strug­gling class­mates.

The fam­ily didn’t get to­gether last year for Christ­mas; Ms. 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.

FBI data show guns are pop­u­lar gifts for the hol­i­days: The agency con­ducted more than 185,700 back­ground checks re­quested by firearms deal­ers on Nov. 25, the shop­ping day known as Black Fri­day this year. That was a sin­gle­day record in the pro­gram’s 18year his­tory.

The AP-USA To­day Net­work anal­y­sis found that the rate of ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings spikes by about 50 per­cent dur­ing the nine days stud­ied com­pared to the rest of the year.

Gun vi­o­lence re­searcher Garen Win­te­mute of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Davis said he was un­aware of any stud­ies show­ing an in­crease in un­in­ten­tional shoot­ings around the hol­i­days, so the news out­lets’ find­ings “might be break­ing new ground.”

“Lots of peo­ple get new firearms over the hol­i­days and might be un­fa­mil­iar with them — and not ap­ply­ing the ba­sic rules of good con­duct with firearms,” he said. Al­co­hol, too, may play a role, he added.

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