Toddlers are picking up weapons and killing people or themselves in increasing numbers in the United States, a country where the number of firearms in circulation has reportedly surpassed the total population.

In a devastating indictment of the gun culture in the United States, a study has shown that there were at least 43 instances in 2015 of somebody being shot by a toddler 3 or younger.

The study, published in the Washington Post, told some terrible tales of such incidents and put up figures on how the proliferation of firearms in homes is leading to a gruesome toll, thanks to toddlers handling or rather, mishandling, weapons.

The Post listed some examples of toddler killings. 

  1. A 2-year-old in South Carolina found a gun in the back seat of the car he was riding in and accidentally shot his grandmother sitting in the passenger seat.
  2. A 21-month-old in the St. Louis area found a loaded handgun at his grandmother's house and shot himself in the torso. His mother took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
  3. A Michigan 3-year-old found a loaded .40-caliber handgun in a closet, shot himself in the head and died.

The Washington Post report said cases like this happen more frequently than people think. In 2015, the study said, there were at least 43 instances of somebody being shot by a toddler 3 or younger. In 31 of those 43 cases, a toddler found a gun and shot himself or herself.

Roughly once a week this year, on average, a small child has found a gun, pointed it at himself or someone else, and pulled the trigger, the Post noted. Boys are disproportionately likely to do this: there were only three cases where a girl under the age of 4 wounded someone with a gun. In 13 of the 43 total incidents, a child's self-inflicted injuries were fatal, the Post added.

Shootings by toddlers have happened in 24 states so far this year. Missouri had led with five separate incidents. Florida had four and Texas, three.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws, argues that many incidents like this are preventable. In a study of accidental shootings by children of all ages (not just toddlers), they estimate that "more than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them."

But gun lock requirements have been vehemently opposed by the National Rifle Association and its allies who want the United States saturated with weapons in homes and public.

It's tough to know exactly how many guns there are in the United States. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report put the number of civilian firearms at 242 million in 1996, 259 million in 2000, and 310 million as of 2009. If the 310 million number is correct, it is the first time that the number of firearms in circulation surpassed the total U.S. population, the Post pointed out.