Many Killed by Teens Illegally Carrying Guns
Laws make possession illegal, but 6% of MPS teens reported having guns.
Outside of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County in Fitchburg, children swing on a playground. Inside the club’s Allied Drive neighborhood location, teenagers dribble basketballs. In the doorway are metal detectors, keeping weapons out of the building. But the danger of firearms still permeates the community.When asked what exposure they had to guns, a group of children talked about their friend, former Boys and Girls Club member Eric Gutierrez, an 11-year-old accidentally shot to death in Walworth County on July 9, 2014, a few months after his family moved there from Madison.“His friends were playing with it,” Keara Jones, 11, recalled during an April interview. “I guess they pulled the trigger and then they shot him. And they left him there.”
Police discovered that Eric and a 14-year-old friend were playing with a handgun in the woods behind the friend’s home in Sharon, a village of 1,600, when Gutierrez was shot in the head. He died the next day.
The gun came from the friend’s father, who kept about 20 firearms in the home. According to police, all of the weapons were accessible, including some stored in an unlocked safe in the teenager’s bedroom. The father was sentenced to a year of probation and has agreed to pay $5,000 in restitution to Eric’s family. The teenager got a year of supervision.
It is illegal for anyone younger than 18 in Wisconsin to possess a firearm except for target practice, training or hunting, and then in most cases only under adult supervision. Nevertheless, hundreds or perhaps thousands of teenagers each year illegally carry firearms — for protection or to hurt themselves or others.
Guns and teens can be a lethal mix. Immaturity and impulsiveness, combined with weapons that can kill with the squeeze of a trigger, have caused death and devastating injuries to Wisconsin children and adults. For example, more than 250 children were suspects in nonfatal shootings in Milwaukee alone during the past decade.
Public health and gun experts say teens get their hands on guns from people they know, often friends or family — not primarily by stealing or buying them illegally. They say more needs to be done to keep firearms out of the hands of minors.
In Milwaukee, about 6 percent of public high school students surveyed in 2013 said they had carried a gun in the previous month, with roughly a third of those saying they had carried on four or more days. The survey did not specify where students carried the guns.
That would mean of the approximately 21,000 high-school students enrolled in fall 2012, roughly 1,300 were armed during the previous 30 days. The rate is similar to those in other large cities including Chicago, Houston and Seattle, Milwaukee Public Schools spokesman Tony Tagliavia said.
As of Aug. 24, 41 children under the age of 17 had been wounded and seven killed by gunfire in Milwaukee this year, according to the city’s police department. That includes a 14-year-old boy shot to death during Fourth of July weekend, a few days before a 13-year-old was charged in the shooting death of another boy his same age.
On July 19, a 17-year-old Milwaukee girl was shot to death while standing on her front porch; the shooting was the city’s 86th homicide of the year, tying the total for all of 2014.
Children also were suspects in hundreds of homicides and nonfatal shootings in Milwaukee over the previous decade.
Between 2005 and 2014, 109 children in Milwaukee were suspected of homicide, many involving guns. Minors accounted for roughly 10 percent of all shooting suspects in 2014, according to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.
Statewide, 109 children ages 17 and under were killed by firearms between 2003 and 2012. An additional 15 young people died of accidental shootings in the same decade, according to the Department of Health Services’ injury mortality database.
A 2013 survey of public high school students on risky behaviors found that 14 percent reported carrying a weapon, such as a club, knife or firearm in the previous 30 days.
Examples of young people within the past two years using guns to harm others can be found around Wisconsin:
- In early June, an 11-year-old boy was shot in the face when he and his 15-year-old cousin were playing with a .22-caliber rifle in Reid, a town of 1,200 in Marathon County, after a day of target shooting with an adult.
- A 17-year-old from Fitchburg is suspected of a July 15 shooting at a Fleet Farm parking lot in Beaver Dam, 40 miles northeast of Madison. The teen, who was suspected of shoplifting ammunition, allegedly wounded a store manager who was trying to detain him.
- In February, Dean Sutcliffe, 17, allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend’s sister and her mother’s boyfriend. Sutcliffe lived in Mazomanie, a village of about 1,700 roughly 25 miles west of Madison. He used his father’s revolver, which he had obtained after finding a key to the gun’s safe.
- Ashlee Martinson, 17, allegedly killed her stepfather with a rifle and her mother with a knife in March. They lived in Piehl, a town with fewer than 100 residents, located about 20 miles east of Rhinelander.
- In September, a 17-year-old was charged in Superior with felony murder after he shot and killed a man in a robbery. He pleaded guilty in early June to the crime.
- Last summer in Racine, a 15-year-old reportedly shot and killed a 19-year-old, who was also armed, later bragging about the murder in a rap video.
- In late December, a 14-year-old was shot and sent to the hospital after he and others were playing with a .22 caliber revolver in Madison. Police said Elliot Johnson, 18, accidentally shot his cousin in the chest. Johnson was sentenced to four years of probation Aug. 21 after pleading guilty to charges including first-degree reckless injury.
Many children also have used guns to harm themselves.
Between 2003 and 2012, the most recent years with available data, 108 Wisconsinites ages 17 and younger died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Shooting was the second most common means of committing suicide among young people in Wisconsin.
Among them was a 15-year-old high school student who fatally shot himself in 2010 at Marinette High School after holding his teacher and classmates hostage.
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