He Taught His Son About Guns. Then the Boy Shot Himself

An 11-year-old's death, and the subject of safe storage legislation
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2021 2:26 PM CDT
He Didn't Hide the Key to His Gun Safe. His Boy Opened It
This file photo shows .45-caliber ammunition.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The night on which 11-year-old Tyler Paxton died in 2014 began in an unremarkable way. He had Taco Bell for dinner and watched YouTube videos, sharing one involving an otter with his mom. He told his parents he was going to watch cartoons in their room. Then came the gunshot. In a piece for the Washington Post adapted from John Woodrow Cox's new book Children Under Fire: An American Crisis, Cox follows the Paxton family's story to showcase one happening involving children and guns: when the former have access to the latter. Tyler's father bought him a .22-caliber rifle when he was 10, though he wasn't particularly enamored by it. "The boy cared far more about his new Amazon Fire tablet," writes Cox. Still, his father trusted Tyler and didn't hide the key to his gun safe from him.

Cox argues that gun safety isn't a divisive issue, with 8 in 10 Americans polled in 2019 saying they would be in favor of safe storage gun laws. Still, he writes that Tyler's death was the kind "people seldom talked about, or even considered, in communities like" West Pelzer, SC, where gun ownership is widespread and the theory is that educating your kids on gun safety is enough. To that end, he points to a study that found 40% of parents who said their kids didn't know where their guns were stored were wrong; so were 20% of parents who said their kids had never touched one of those guns. Tyler's death was ruled a suicide, but his parents say that's just not possible. There was no depression, no bullying. They have their theories—the .357 Magnum revolver he pulled from the safe was the only one that was loaded. Perhaps he didn't know, or just couldn't grasp the finality of his actions. (Read the full story, which dives much deeper into safe storage gun legislation and talks about how Tyler's death impacted how the responding officer stored his own guns.)

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