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Everytown Releases New Research Highlighting 2023 as Worst Year for Unintentional Shootings by Children, Virginia Has a Rate Higher than the National Average of These Preventable Tragedies from 2015-2023


RICHMOND, VA – Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund has released new data highlighting the devastating rise in unintentional shootings by children, finding that 2023 had the highest number of incidents since Everytown started tracking them in 2015. In fact, the annual number of unintentional shootings by children surpassed 400 for the first time since Everytown began its tracking. Everytown’s research also shows that Virginia saw 83 unintentional shooting incidents by children from 2015-2023.

“With several bills to increase secure firearm storage on Governor Youngkin’s desk awaiting his signature, this data makes it even more clear – he must sign these lifesaving measures into law,” said Amanda Faulkner, a volunteer with the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Every death or injury resulting from an unintentional shooting is preventable and we have the solutions to keep guns out of the hands of children, one of which is secure storage. If Governor Youngkin wants to join us in the fight to keep our children safe, he must sign these bills into law.” 

Now that the 2024 legislative session has ended, the General Assembly has sent dozens of gun safety bills to Governor Youngkin’s desk, including a key measure to require the secure storage of firearms in homes where children or people legally prohibited from having firearms are present, HB 183 (Del. Simon) and SB 368 (Sen. Boysko). The Governor has until April 8 to sign them into law, or veto them against his constituents’ wishes. Polling from earlier this year indicated that over 70% of respondents said they would support legislation that requires Virginia gun owners to securely store their firearms. 

Governor Youngkin already failed to sign a bill earlier this month that would have required school boards to annually notify parents about the importance of securely storing firearms (HB 498, Del. Cohen). These bills are critical to keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have access to them, most especially children who could unintentionally shoot themselves or others. 

Key findings from the new data include:

  • The two age groups most likely to unintentionally shoot themself or others are high schoolers between the ages of 14 and 17, followed by preschoolers ages five and younger.
  • The victims of shootings by children are most often also children. Over nine in 10 of those wounded or killed in unintentional shootings by children were also under 18 years old.
  • Nearly one in every three unintentional shooters were five years old and younger. Over one thousand toddlers and preschoolers since 2015 have come upon a loaded firearm and shot themself or someone else.   
  • When children unintentionally shoot another person, the victim is most often a sibling or a friend.
  • More than seven in 10 unintentional child shootings occur in or around homes.
  • Unintentional shootings occur most frequently at times when children are likely to be home: over the weekend and in the summer.
  • Handguns account for the bulk of gun types accessed by children in unintentional shootings. 
  • The states with the highest rates of unintentional shootings by children — Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama — have weak or no firearm storage laws, while the states with the lowest rates all have storage laws — Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and California.
  • 2023 saw the highest number of incidents (411), injuries (270) and total victims (427).

This one-of-a-kind dataset allows us to identify solutions. Knowing that these shootings largely occur in and around homes and on weekends and over the summer—when children are likely to be home—points to secure firearm storage as a critical answer. Unintentional shootings by children are not accidents, as they are almost always preventable with secure firearm storage practices, awareness, and policies. These avoidable tragedies cause physical and emotional suffering that persists far beyond the initial incident and leave scars on people far beyond the immediate families of those involved. 

Research shows the most effective way to prevent an unintentional shooting is to make sure firearms are stored as securely as possible. That means unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. Firearms are not stored securely when they’re placed in an unlocked dresser or nightstand drawer, under a couch cushion, mattress, or pillow, in an unlocked closet, on a high shelf or on top of the refrigerator. 

In an average year in Virginia, 1,121 people die by guns and 1,911 people are wounded. Gun violence costs Virginia $14.2 billion each year, of which $288.3 million is paid by taxpayers. More information about gun violence in Virginia is available here.