Conservative Media Attacks ABC News For Telling The Truth About Kids And Gun Accidents

The National Rifle Association's radio show and other conservative media are baselessly attacking an ABC News special that highlighted how gun accidents can occur when children access unsecured firearms.

The ABC News 20/20 special, hosted by Diane Sawyer and titled Young Guns, reported that 1.7 million children live in a home with an unsecured and loaded firearm, 98 children under the age of 18 died in accidental shootings in 2010, and 80 percent of accidental shooting victims are boys. 

The January 31 Young Guns special centered on a psychologist-designed experiment that placed children in an empty classroom that contained an unsecured firearm. According to 20/20 “nearly all” of the 44 children in the experiment had been taught not to touch a gun and half of those children were shown the NRA's “Eddie Eagle” gun safety program to reinforce the lesson. But when an unloaded firearm was left in the classroom, many of the children still touched and played with it. Some even pointed the weapons at themselves or other children and pulled the trigger. The NRA declined repeated requests by ABC to participate in an interview for the special.

As pediatric psychologist Marjorie Sanfilippo noted in the special, “These three-year-olds who shoot themselves in the head, for whatever reason it's the natural thing to look down the barrel,” and added, “You can't educate curiosity out of a child.” Indeed, 20/20's experiment reached similar conclusions to a 2001 experiment published in the medical journal Pediatrics that found 63 percent of 8- to 12-year old boys who found a gun touched it and 33 percent pulled the trigger, even though 90 percent had received gun safety training.

Conservative media offered a nonsensical criticism of the special, which they termed "anti-gun," "a classic case of a news outlet making the news instead of reporting it," "ridiculous propaganda piece about kids with guns," and "the sort of sensational journalism that is not really journalism."

On the January 3 edition of NRA News show Cam & Company, host Cam Edwards sarcastically asked guest and Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, “Do you know any parents who are gun owners who store their firearms in their kid's toy box?” Pavlich, who called the Young Guns experiment “totally asinine and ridiculous,” asked, “So are we going to start putting our rat poison next to our kid's candy boxes?” In a rebuttal to the special, The Blaze host Dana Loesch argued, “ABC producers irresponsibly conclude that we have an epidemic of accidental shootings involving children because these producers placed guns around play areas and children looked at them.”

This argument only makes sense under the mistaken assumption that all guns are always stored where children cannot access them. (The admission by conservative media that kids will play with guns if they find them also undermines the NRA's claim that its “Eddie Eagle” gun education program is a deterrent to accidental shootings.)

As Young Guns demonstrated in a segment following the experiment, young children often know where firearms are stored in the home and can gain access to them, often to the surprise of the children's parents. The special also featured a woman who openly stored her loaded firearm on the kitchen table in reach of her young daughter and the tragic story of a toddler who fatally shot himself with a firearm stored on top of a five foot dresser in his parent's bedroom. The child's parents still do not know how he managed to access the gun.

Reality also undermines this attack on Young Guns. A December 2013 report by Mother Jones found that at least 84 children aged 12 or younger died after accessing unsecured firearms in the year following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. According to a September 2013 investigation by The New York Times, a “review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities.” A recent study in Pediatrics counted 2,149 hospitalizations of children for accidental shootings in a single year.

Edwards, Pavlich, and Loesch all offered a secondary attack on the special by suggesting that the incidence of accidental gun deaths among children is too rare to warrant the scrutiny of a 20/20 special. Loesch stated the “hysterical” report is “based on the presupposition that accidental death as a result of improperly used firearms, it's an epidemic. It's not.” Pavlich attacked Young Guns by claiming that accidents involving children “occur very rarely,” while Edwards pointed out that ABC News had noted the number of children killed in accidents involving firearms has decreased since 1990.

In particular, Edwards' arguments against Young Guns track his show's previous coverage of gun accidents involving children. In January Edwards argued against child access prevention laws -- measures that create a criminal penalty for adults who facilitate gun accidents through negligence -- by suggesting that the “horror” of the accident is punishment enough. In doing so, Edwards ignored that research has shown that these laws are associated with a reduction in gun deaths among children resulting from accidents and suicide.

When the topic of accidental gun deaths involving children became national news in April 2013 following the fatal shooting of a 2-year old girl by her 5-year old brother, Edwards attacked the media for covering the accident. In what he termed a “campaign of shame,” Edwards claimed that the “mass media” sought to “hold themselves up as our betters” and “wanted to make a point that this is what happens in Bumpkinville” by reporting on the shooting.