'Mother Jones' Tracked Child Gun Victims Since Newtown Shootings

An investigative report by Mother Jones magazine looks at the number of children who have been shot and killed with guns in the year since the Newtown tragedy. Melissa Block speaks with Mark Follman, senior editor at Mother Jones, for more.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the year since the Newtown shootings, at least 194 children under the age of 12 have been shot to death in this country. The average age, 6. That's the conclusion of an investigation by Mother Jones magazine, which compiled and analyzed news accounts of these shootings. Senior editor Mark Follman headed up the project and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

MARK FOLLMAN: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And, Mark, you break down these numbers several ways. Let's talk about this one first. Of the 194 children shot and killed over the past year, how many of them were victims of homicide?

FOLLMAN: There were 103 homicides in these 194 cases and there were 84 accidents, I believe it was three suicides and several cases where it was unclear how the children were shot to death.

BLOCK: OK. And you also looked at where the children were killed. What did you find there?

FOLLMAN: There was a particularly strong pattern here. What we found with these cases was that the majority of these children were shot to death in their own homes. There were 127 such cases. And there were another 30 cases in which these children died in other homes, the homes of neighbors or friends or relatives. So it shows us that the vast majority of this problem is happening in homes - that this is where children in this age range are in the greatest danger.

BLOCK: Well, it's interesting because when you broke down who did the shooting, who was responsible for these deaths of children, you found 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, 50 of those in homicides, so presumably the other 10 were accidental. Seventy-two of the children either pulled the trigger themselves or were shot and killed by another child.

FOLLMAN: That's right. And, you know, that points to another troubling finding in this investigation, which is that particularly with gun accidents, the public outrage is often directed at the parents. You know, why do parents let this happen? Why aren't they held responsible? And in fact that's what we found, that very infrequently are they held responsible by the law. We were only able to find four cases out of these 72 where kids themselves got their hands on guns in which adults were held criminally liable.

BLOCK: Mark, I mentioned that you culled these numbers and did this analysis based on news accounts of these child shooting deaths. Is there any better method than that? That seems a pretty haphazard way to try to collate this data.

FOLLMAN: That's a good question, Melissa. I mean, another important point here is that we don't, in fact, have great data on this issue and that's something that's true in general with the issue of gun violence. We know that this is an undercount of this problem. It understates the problem. Federal research isn't much help because we know that the numbers there, too, are an underestimate of the scope of this problem.

We know, for example, that the CDC data on gun violence tends to be spotty and deficient. Their numbers estimate about 200 children dying a year from guns. But there's some new research now by a couple of doctors in Boston that suggest that the toll is significantly higher. They found closer to 500 children a year dying from guns, and they found those numbers using pediatric records from hospitals. So it's clear that the research that we have on gun violence, and particularly with respect to children, is far from complete.

BLOCK: You know, the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups have also looked at numbers from the CDC and they say that firearm accident deaths among children have gone down dramatically, even while the number of guns owned in this country have gone up. They say the country is trending in the right direction and there's no correlation between numbers of guns and numbers of children killed.

FOLLMAN: Well, I think the problem with that assertion is that, as I was saying earlier, the federal data is deficient. And maybe one of the reasons for that is that there really has been essentially no funding for federal research into gun violence for many years. Back in the 1990s, the NRA moved aggressively to stop it, lobbied to defund any kind of research that was related to guns and gun violence. And so there's been very little since.

You know, it's hard to make a correlation between the number of guns in the country and the rate of death and injury because of the lack of data on a number of counts. But there is also research that shows that when more firearms are present, the risk to individuals around those firearms goes up.

BLOCK: Mark Follman is senior editor at Mother Jones magazine. Mark, thanks very much.

Thanks for having me.

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