A great deal of media attention necessarily is paid to mass shootings, which occur with shocking regularity in the United States. Appreciating the tragic nature of these events, statistically speaking, more than one person is killed every day in an accidental shooting in the United States.
Accidental Shooting Death Statistics in the United States
During the last year for which a full set of statistics are available, 489 people were killed in the United States because of accidental shootings, according to data maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. 15 years earlier, the number of people killed across the country was 824. Taking into account the population increase, the rate of people killed by accidental shootings dropped by 48 percent during this time period. There has been a decrease in the incidence of accidental gun shootings in all 50 states.
A number of reasons exist for the overall decrease in accidental shootings in the United States:
- Gun safety education programs
- State laws regulating residential gun storage
- Decrease in the number of households with guns
Accidental shooting deaths comprise just over 1 percent of all gun killings in the United States annually. In the same year that 489 people killed by accidental shootings, a total of 36,247 individuals were shot to death in the United States.
85 percent of people killed in accidental shootings are male, over 25 percent of these men being between the ages of 15 and 24. The next highest percentage of shooting deaths among men are those between the ages of 25 and 34.
Changes in Laws in Response to Accidental Shootings
Although Congress has taken no action to enact laws addressing accidental shooting deaths, 27 states have taken steps in recent years to enact laws. 14 of these states have passed laws imposing requirements on the way firearms are stored at home. In California, a law was passed that makes it a third-degree misdemeanor to knowingly keep a loaded firearm in a location where an unsupervised child can gain access to such a weapon.
The Aftermath of an Accidental Shooting Death in a Home
A significant percentage of accidental shooting deaths occur in people’s homes. No one can ever truly be prepared for this type of horrific event. There are some important steps that are taken in the aftermath of an accident shooting death that occurs in a residence.
The obvious first step is calling 911, which is likely something that happens instinctively in most cases. 911 should be called even if it is clear that an individual did not survive an accidental shooting.
Paramedics and law enforcement officers will be dispatched to the residence in which an accident shooting resulting in death occurred. In California, paramedics have the legal authority to declare death in a situation like this. In some states, the remains of a person killed in an accidental shooting needs to be transported to a hospital for a doctor to issue a declaration of death.
The coroner’s office will also be dispatched to the scene of a shooting death. The remains of the deceased is transported to the coroner’s office for a forensics examination. This is necessary because, even in the case of an accident shooting, a crime may be charged. Reference is made to a possible criminal prosecution not to add more grief into a family’s life in which this type of shooting occurred. Rather, understanding the full spectrum of consequences of an accidental shooting death is important.
In California, a coroner typically completes a forensic examination following an accidental shooting within 24 to 48 hours. A family has 72 hours after that time to arrange for the transport of the remains to a funeral home. Provided a funeral home has been retained by a family, the funeral home will make transport arrangements from the coroner’s office.
Cleaning After an Accidental Shooting Death
One of the challenges faced following an accidental shooting death is cleaning the area in which the accident occurred. Technically speaking, this cleaning process is called biohazard remediation. Blood and other biological materials contaminate the area in which an accidental shooting occurred. (Keep in mind that the cleaning process cannot commence until the coroner and law enforcement complete their investigation of the scene of the accidental shooting.)
The process includes four primary steps:
The cleaning process is designed to eliminate blood and biological material found in the room where an accidental shooting occurred. This is a floor to ceiling endeavor, including the room itself and items contained in it.
Sanitizing is designed to thoroughly eliminate any and all bacteria that may be present at the scene. Some individuals have bloodborne bacteria and viruses in their systems, which are released when a shooting occurs. If the deceased had no such condition, bacteria remains an issue. If even a short amount of time elapsed between the shooting and the start of the cleanup process, bacteria can be an issue.
Deodorization is also important. As is the case with sanitizing the scene, deodorizing the scene is vital if more than a day or two elapsed between the accidental shooting and the commencement of the cleaning process.
The ultimate objective is to restore the space where an accidental shooting occurred to a fully habitable environment.
The cleaning process necessitates the use of what are known as universal safety precautions. These are safety steps designed to protect an individual involved in the cleanup process from any harmful contaminants that might be contained in the blood or biological material. These precautions necessitate the utilization of safety gear that includes:
- Smock or apron
- Mask or respirator
Due to the personal impact of losing a family member to an accidental shooting, coupled with safety issues, engaging a professional biohazard remediation service is the recommended course of action to take.