HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Experts say the accidental shooting deaths and injuries of children in Hampton Roads are part of a tragic trend impacting families across the United States.

Over the course of one month, two toddlers died and an 8-year-old was injured after police say they accidentally shot themselves with guns left loaded and unattended by adults.

A 3-year-old boy died on April 3 after he accidentally shot himself with a loaded gun that police believe was left unattended by Ja’quan Askew. He’s charged with allowing a child access to a firearm – a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail.

Just days later, another 3-year-old boy died in an accidental shooting in Newport News. The boy’s father, Nathan Copeland, was charged with child abuse, possession of a firearm by a violent convicted felony, and allowing a child access to a firearm.

Then, an 8-year-old girl accidentally shot herself in the leg in Norfolk on May 5. Police say her uncle, Alvonte Lawton, left his loaded gun unattended, which led to the shooting. He’s charged with child abuse in connection to her injuries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children – even above car accidents. More than 2,200 children died of gunshot wounds in 2020, CDC data shows.

But not all of those shootings are intentional. Lindsay Nichols, policy director at the Giffords Law Center, says accidental shootings involving children are surging.

“The difference between life and death for a child is often a gunlock,” Nichols said.

Nichols said that 2021 saw the highest number of accidental gun deaths among Americans in more than a decade, and more children died in unintentional shootings that year than in any year since 2000.

The number of children who died in accidental shootings in 2021 represented a 59% increase over just two years, Nichols said.

“The problem is getting worse,” she said.

Virginia is one of 34 states that has a law aimed at preventing kids from getting access to firearms, but Nichols says the legislation doesn’t include a specific gun storage requirement. Without a storage requirement, gun owners are left to decide how they will secure their weapons. Sometimes, what a gun owner thinks is secure isn’t out-of-reach for a child.

“The frightening truth is that children know where the guns are in the home and they know how to access them,” she said. “That’s why parents should always assume that children can find their guns and adults must make sure that their guns are locked up, unloaded and ammunition is not easily found.”

Many police departments have events aimed at providing free gun locks to citizens, including Newport News and Norfolk. Contact your local police department to find out if there is an event happening near you.