Three-year-old Truman Scott loved pancakes for breakfast, which his mother Tiffany says he called “pan-takes.” He loved running outside on the family farm in the sunshine wearing nothing but his tiny cowboy boots. He loved bossing his siblings around even though he was the youngest, and shadowing his father as he took care of chores around the farm.
But little Truman didn’t make it past age 3. He died by accidental gunshot wound because his father left a loaded weapon on a nightstand.
Tiffany relays the story in excruciating detail on her blog. She was planning to buy a pair of cell phones for her teen daughters from an online seller, and her husband Tim thought the deal sounded suspicious. To make him feel better, Tiffany suggested she take a handgun with her.
Tim agreed to this and loaded the gun, then set it on the nightstand in the room where Tiffany was breastfeeding their 10-month-old to sleep.
A few minutes later, Tiffany heard a loud bang. Their 3-year-old child had somehow slipped into the room unnoticed, grabbed the gun, and taken it with him onto the family’s front porch, where he shot himself.
The handgun was meant to make the Scotts feel safe. What a cruel, heart-shattering irony.
And now Tim and Tiffany Scott have an important message they want to share with all of us. All of us, but gun owners especially. They want us to lock up our damn guns. They don’t want anyone else to have to suffer the same loss they have.
The thing is, the Scotts did everything else right to keep their children safe. The whole reason they lived on a farm and home-schooled their children was so they could raise their family “in the safest environment possible.” It is clear these are parents who adore their children, who would do anything for their children.
Now, if you’re thinking the Scotts are 100% at fault for their child’s death, you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know. The Scotts are painfully aware that their carelessness with a gun caused their son’s death.
In Tiffany’s words: “As parents – we failed. And we take full responsibility for that failure. The price we’ve paid is nearly unbearable and unfortunately our other children have also been affected by our horribly stupid choice. Tim was arrogant and I was distracted.”
But the Scotts aren’t alone. Their mistake is a common one in the United States. Gun owners forget to respect these weapons. They forget that guns are killing machines. They think tragedies like this won’t happen to them.
Except it does happen, and far too often.
Six-year-old Millie Drew Kelly, of a suburb of Atlanta, was killed just this April because her 4-year-old brother discovered his mother’s loaded gun in the console of their car and shot his sister with it. It seems a week can’t pass by without another tragic story like this.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2016 death by firearm was the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the U.S.
The second leading cause of death? America, what are we doing?
Unintentional deaths like those of Truman Scott and Millie Drew Kelly are far less prevalent than intentional deaths (suicide and homicide), but the thing about unintentional gun deaths is that they are preventable. At no time should a loaded gun ever, ever, ever be left in the presence of a minor. EVER.
The U.S. has far too many guns, and on top of that, we’re careless or sloppy with them. One in three U.S. homes with kids under 18 has a gun in it, and an incomprehensible 43% of these homes admit their firearm is unlocked and loaded.
Unlocked. Loaded. With kids in the house. And these people admit to this as if it were normal human behavior, when really, it is inexcusable.
Firearm deaths among children and adolescents are far higher in the U.S. than in other high-income countries — 36.5 times higher. For low-to-middle-income countries, we have 5 times the rate of kids dying from guns. These numbers are astonishing. And, yes, as you would expect, the gun laws in these other countries are far more restrictive than here in the U.S.
Will we ever be willing to admit we have a problem with guns in this country?
I admit, when I first started reading the Scotts’ story, I was angry. Angry at them, for their carelessness. I couldn’t doubt their love for their children, but they were careless with a machine designed to kill. They just were. There is no getting around this.
I couldn’t help but think that if they were so scared to transact business with a stranger that they felt it necessary to carry a deadly weapon, then maybe that transaction wasn’t really worth it. Are a couple of cellphones really important enough to risk a situation where you may be forced to kill someone? Yet I know so many Americans carry a gun just about everywhere they go “just in case.”
So many Americans, just walking around ready to kill at any moment. I will never understand this way of thinking.
And yet Tiffany’s remorse, her unwavering ownership of her culpability, and the strength with which she now puts herself in the public eye despite enduring what I imagine must be a near-constant onslaught of blaming attitudes like mine … well, she lost her child. These people lost their child because of a mistake they made.
They are suffering the consequences of that mistake every minute of every day. Our judging them can’t make them feel any more responsible than they already do. It can’t punish them any worse than they’ve already been punished. It can’t bring back their baby who they clearly loved so much.
The Scotts are on a mission to educate people about the necessity for responsible gun ownership. Tiffany remembers how she used to think like others who want to have their loaded weapon within arm’s reach, and how she’s changed her mind since her son’s death. “In an emergency, every second matters. But as parents, moments matter too. I challenge gun owners to consider that just as much when it comes to children & unsecured guns. All it takes is seconds.”
She reminds gun owners that if they truly feel they need an easily accessible gun, there are gun safes on the market that can be entered within seconds, as well as digital locks. But, she said, “the risk of a child finding an unsecured gun is much greater than an intruder entering our home and our guns being secured risking our safety.” Statistics back her up–in a study that collected data from all fatal and non-fatal shootings across three cities, for every ONE time a gun was used for protection, there were 22 incidents unrelated to protection. These are terrible odds.
On the “Gun Safety” page of her blog, Tiffany writes:
“For many it’s easy to point out our mistakes and pass a judgment. For others, you feel deeply, but return to your daily lives like it was just another sad, unfortunate story. That is okay. But what is not okay is for you to think this couldn’t be you. Do you know how many people – friends and even family – have said the most piercing words anyone could say to us, ‘Oh MY kids know better.’ Or ‘MY kids would NEVER…’ Or have an excuse for not securing and storing their guns responsibly. If you have a gun in your purse, in your nightstand drawer, under your mattress, on your closet shelf, or in your vehicle’s glove box, console, or under a seat – IT COULD BE YOUR CHILD!!
I don’t care how old or smart they are, how many conversations you’ve had or what you’ve taught them – they are KIDS! I have children ages 2 to 17 in my home so my safety rules for our household largely vary, but there is not one of them I don’t underestimate now. They are kids. It’s not their responsibility – it is ours. We are the adults. If we leave safety on any level up to them – even for just a moment – the only reasonable expectation we can have is that they will be kids.
The year Truman died – SIX other police families lost children to a gun accident – all because they underestimated their child and were too arrogant to think their child would or could harm themselves with a gun. I assure you there are few families who are more aware of the importance of gun safety than a police family because it truly is a part of their daily lives – yet it happens. Did you hear that? It happens – you and your kids aren’t immune!”
Please, folks, if you own a firearm and have children in your home, or if children ever visit your home, your firearm must be safely stored, locked up separately from the ammunition. If it isn’t, go take care of this now. Right now. Please.
You might just save a life.
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