We conducted a two-part study of unintentional firearm deaths in California. First, we analyzed death certificate data for the 688 unintentional firearm deaths of California residents occurring during 1977-1983. Mortality rates were 7.5 for males, 0.9 for females, 4.8 for whites, and 5.3 for blacks, all per million persons per year. Males ages 15-24 had the highest rate (17 per million persons per year). We then investigated the 131 childhood deaths in greater detail, using coroners' or medical examiners' reports. Most of these shootings occurred at a residence. Handguns were involved more frequently than predicted by their reported availability in homes in the region. Almost two thirds of child deaths resulted from head wounds, reinforcing the importance of primary prevention. At least 40% of child deaths in this study appeared in part to be attributable to defects in firearm performance or current firearm design practices, suggesting that improvements should be sought and mandated.