On Sunday, Dijonae White, a 14-year-old girl from Mississippi, was shot and killed, allegedly by her nine-year-old brother, following a dispute between the two over a video game controller.
Authorities report that when the middle schooler would not give the controller to her younger brother, he retrieved a .25 caliber handgun and shot his sister in the back of the head. The children’s mother was reportedly in a nearby room at the time of the incident. The handgun is believed to belong to the mother’s live in boyfriend and it was not immediately clear how the boy gained access to it.
In Mississippi, there is no law that holds an adult responsible when children have access to weapons that are not secured.
"In my opinion, kids watch video games where they shoot each other and hit the reset button and they come back to life. It's not like that in the real world," Sheriff Cecil Cantrell told the Clarion Ledger. "I’m not saying that’s necessarily what happened, but kids now are different than what they were when we were growing up."
Many doctors and policy makers however, place the blame on a child’s accessibility to guns. Dr. Denise Dowd, Professor of Pediatric at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine co authored the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on firearm related injuries. She told Refinery29 that safe gun storage is the only real solution to preventing such incidents. The AAP advises that all guns be stored unloaded and locked.
“It’s simply not effective to try to teach a young child not to handle a gun,” said Dr. Dowd. “The prefrontal cortex of a child’s brain is still developing and they are, by nature, excited, impulsive and curious. There is no way to apply that teaching at the moment of greatest risk, particularly if a child or teenager is agitated.”
Dr. Dowd compared the issue of gun safety to other practical safety measures parents and caretakers regularly make in their homes; building a fence around a pool, for example, is more effective in preventing drowning, than simply telling the child not to swim unsupervised.
“Children should not have access to anything that can kill so quickly,” Dr. Dowd said. “You don’t get second chances in these situations.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for stricter gun control laws, many of which are now being widely discussed in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. Among their recommendations are an effective assault weapon ban, and strengthening the quality of mental health care and access to services for children.
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