Gun-control advocates are trying a new strategy to draw attention to the issue in the final weeks before Election Day: a provocative advertisement called "Toddlers Kill."
The tongue-in-cheek spot, commissioned by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and produced by a major New York ad agency, is a mashup of footage of young children handling guns with a narrator who portrays kids as dangerous criminals. A statistic flashes on the screen saying that an American is shot by a toddler on a weekly basis.
"We need to lock them up," the narrator says. "Not the guns. That's just un-American. The toddlers."
Brady spokesman Brendan Kelly said the ad was meant to seize people's attention during a tumultuous election campaign and persuade them to vote for candidates who support reforming gun laws.
"Gun violence is bigger than toddlers," Kelly said.
Indeed. Shootings involving small children is a tiny percentage of the total number of shootings in America: of the 33,599 people shot to death in 2014, the last year for which government data is available, 56 were children ages 3 and younger.
There is not any reliable data that tracks the number of children who, on accident or on purpose, shoot someone else, although researchers are working on making that available.
The Trace, an online news site that covers gun violence — and is funded in part by a gun-control advocacy group — did its own analysis this year, focusing on children 13 and younger using data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, called the ad "offensive" and accused the Brady Campaign of trying to "sensationalize tragedy to push a gun control agenda." She added, "If they were truly concerned about safety, they would be spending their resources on safety and training."
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Researchers say that the number of accidental firearms deaths — among children and overall — has been declining steadily. Some credit states that have passed laws requiring parents to store guns in safe places.
The NRA disputes that, and credits its own gun safety program for the decline.
"No one in the world has done more to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms than the NRA," Baker said.