WASHINGTON - Before 20 first graders were massacred at school by a gunman in Newtown, Conn., first grader Luke Schuster, 6, was shot to death in New Town, N.D. Six-year-olds John Devine Jr. and Jayden Thompson were similarly killed in Kentucky and Texas.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, died in a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., while 6-year-old Kammia Perry was slain by her father outside her Cleveland home, according to an Associated Press review of 2012 media reports.
Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.
As he mourned with the families of Newtown, President Obama said the nation cannot accept such violent deaths of children as routine. But hundreds of young children's deaths by gunfire - whether intentional or accidental - suggest it might already have.
Between 2006 and 2010, 561 children under 12 were killed by firearms, according to the FBI's most recent Uniform Crime Reports. The numbers each year are consistent: 120 in 2006; 115 in 2007; 116 in 2008; 114 in 2009; and 96 in 2010. The FBI's count does not include gun-related child deaths that authorities have ruled accidental.
"This happens on way too regular a basis, and it affects families and communities - not at once, so we don't see it and we don't understand it as part of our national experience," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
The true number of small children who died by gunfire in 2012 won't be known for a couple of years, when official reports are collected and dumped into a database and analyzed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects to release its 2011 count in the spring.
In response to what happened in Newtown, the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby, suggested shielding children from gun violence by putting an armed police officer in every school by the time classes resume in January.
"Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. ... They post signs advertising them, and in doing so they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said.
Webster said children are more likely to die by gunfire at home or in the street. They tend to be safer when they are in school, he said.
None of the 61 deaths reviewed by the Associated Press happened at school.