"I just know she's in heaven right now, and I know she's in the good hands of the Lord," a grieving Linda Riddle told Lexington, Kentucky's WLEX about her granddaughter, Caroline Sparks. The day before, on April 30, 2-year-old Caroline had been shot dead by her 5-year-old brother, Kristian.
"It's God's will," lamented Riddle. "It was her time to go, I guess."
Maybe. But if so, it's shit like this that makes me want to shoot God right through the fucking head.
Caroline's death was only the most prominent in our nation's recent epidemic of toddler gun violence. On April 6, Wilson County, Tennessee, sheriff's deputy Daniel Fanning was reportedly showing off his weapons collection to a relative when his 4-year-old nephew grabbed a loaded pistol off the bed and killed Fanning's wife, Josephine, with a single shot. Three days later, in Toms River, New Jersey, police say a 4-year-old boy fatally shot his 6-year-old playmate in the head with a .22-caliber rifle, as their parents watched horrified from a nearby yard.
And this month, the child-on-child gun violence continued. On May 7, a 3-year-old Hillsborough County, Florida, boy reportedly shot himself dead with his uncle's 9mm handgun. The next day, in Houston, Texas, a 5-year-old boy shot his 7-year-old brother through the back with a rusty bolt-action rifle while the two were taking a bath. The day after that, in Corsicana, Texas, police say a 2-year-old boy died after shooting himself in the head with his father's handgun. On May 18, a 2-year-old Asheboro, North Carolina, boy grabbed his father's gun, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Five dead, two wounded. All at the hands of children ages 5 and younger.
If this is all God's will, he's a coldhearted motherfucker. But me, I blame America's stupid fucking gun culture and the greedy, sociopathic gun industry that promotes it.
In the roughly five months since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre shocked the nation, our gun culture has relentlessly claimed another 4,228 American lives. At least. In lieu of an accurate government tally, these figures were compiled by the crowdsourced @GunDeaths project. But most suicides, which make up about 60 percent of all gun deaths, go unreported, so the total gun-death toll is likely much higher. For the record: 82 of these reported post–Sandy Hook gun deaths were children and another 207 were teens.
Even at this dramatically underreported gun-death rate, America is still suffering the collective equivalent of another Sandy Hook every 27 hours.
I'm sure somewhere within all that bloodshed there must've been a couple of righteous killings—occasionally some law-abiding firearms owner manages to live out his fantasy of legitimately gunning down another person in self-defense. But that's a statistically insignificant fraction of the thousands of accidental, homicidal, and suicidal gun deaths in America each year, not to mention the many thousands more nonfatal shootings.
The simple truth that the death merchants in the gun industry and their blood-soaked shills at the NRA don't want you to know is that GUNS DON'T MAKE YOU SAFER. They just don't. If all the anecdotes of toddlers blowing their own brains out and women being murdered in fits of firearm-enabled domestic violence aren't convincing enough, study after study compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health conclude that the number-one thing you can do to increase the statistical likelihood that you or a loved one will be killed or injured by a gun is to keep a gun in the house. Period.
For the vast majority of Americans, GUNS DON'T MAKE YOU SAFER. That is what the gun industry doesn't want you to know. The states with the highest rates of gun ownership are also the states with the highest rates of accidental gun deaths—seven times higher in the four states with the highest rate of gun ownership, according to a 2001 study, than the four states with the lowest. Meanwhile, youths 24 and younger are the most likely victims of accidental gun deaths, and almost always at the hands of a friend or a family member near their own age.
GUNS DON'T MAKE YOU SAFER. That is what the NRA doesn't want you to know. In study after study, the states with the highest rates of gun ownership are also found to have the highest rates of suicide. And not because gun owners are more suicidal—a 2011 study found they are not. It's just that people living in homes with guns have better access to the most effective means of suicide available, with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent for firearms, compared to less than 5 percent for intentional drug overdoses. That's why adolescents who successfully commit suicide overwhelmingly do so with a family gun. And, tragically, a new study has found that nearly one in five youths at risk for suicide live in a home with a gun.
GUNS DON'T MAKE YOU SAFER. That is what the anti-gun-control politicians don't want you to know. The claim that guns are used millions of times a year in self- defense is a myth. Data from emergency rooms find that few criminals are shot by law-abiding citizens, while another Harvard study found that most purported cases of self-defense result from escalating arguments, not robberies or assaults. Instead, personal firearms are much more likely to be used for intimidation than for self-defense, especially against women, who, again, suffer higher rates of homicide in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership.
No, GUNS DON'T MAKE YOU SAFER. Yet even as the bodies pile up, even as our landscape is littered with the brain fragments of dead toddlers—and yes, even as post–Sandy Hook public-opinion polls continue to show overwhelming support for tighter gun laws—our cowardly lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, refuse to enact even the most basic reforms at either the state or the federal level. They cannot even pass something as simple and sensible as universal background checks for all gun purchases, so that we can at least attempt to weed out the crazy and the criminal and the domestically violent.
Blah, blah, blah, Second Amendment right to bear arms and all that. But our modern gun-crazy culture is neither the historical norm nor a constitutional necessity, nor is it an inevitable outgrowth of the American experience. No, it is the result of marketing from an amoral industry that values its quarterly profits above the lives of our children. Five-year-old Kristian Sparks shot his 2-year-old sister with a Crickett brand "My First Rifle," a gun marketed directly to kids. That ours is a culture that would not instantly recognize such marketing as outrageously inappropriate tells us how sick our culture really is.
But, you know, what goes around comes around. This is a big country, filled (if unevenly) with sociopaths on all sides of the ideological spectrum, all with equal access to deadly firearms. And chances are, someday a grieving parent or other relative, rather than seeking solace in religion, will seek it in revenge. And if the day comes when the corporate offices of a gun manufacturer or the NRA or one of their many surrogates is the scene of a mass shooting, I will rationally acknowledge it for the tragedy it is, before ironically quipping under my breath: "It's God's will."