A Kentucky family has lost their baby daughter to yet another senseless shooting. The family had given their five-year-old son a .22 caliber Crickett rifle as a gift. The boy was “used to shooting it,” according to the county coroner. The children’s mother had just stepped away for a few minutes, and this was “just one of those crazy accidents,” according to the coroner.
I understand that the family is grieving, regretful, probably second-guessing themselves and replaying a host of what-ifs and if-only-we-hadn’ts. I am sympathetic myself, but I disagree with the sympathetic coroner. There is an awful lot of information packed into the few brief articles about the incident, enough for me to suspect that the family was negligent.
I’m not even going to harp on the fact that the boy is only 5. My Mississippi relatives give their kids real guns and teach them to hunt pretty dang early. On a visit to the farm down there, the young cousins – some no more than 7 or 8 years old – would go hunting in groups. When they came walking back out of the woods, they were all carrying their rifles safely, pointing downward and away from other people. Those boys, too, probably started handling weapons around age 5. So no, the Kentucky parents’ mistake was not handing their 5-year-old a .22 rifle, but there were other mistakes aplenty.
First, secured storage: properly stored weapons are locked up. This weapon was stored in a corner, easily accessible not only to the untrained 5-year-old, but to his 2-year-old sister as well. So long as there are any untrained people in the house or even visiting the house, weapons need to be out of reach.
Properly stored weapons are not loaded. This one was. Notice the use of the passive voice in the reporting: “The family didn’t realize a shell was left inside it.” Passive voice avoids responsibility; who left the shell inside the weapon? Who placed it in the corner without checking that it had been cleared? Ultimately, since we are dealing with a five-year-old weapon owner, the safety of that weapon is the parents’ responsibility.
Properly trained children are taught to be aware of where the weapon is pointing at all times, to always treat it as if it were loaded, and to never point a weapon at anyone. Obviously, none of that happened here. The coroner might tell us that the boy was “used to shooting,” but he was not properly trained. We know he was not properly trained, because his sister is dead.
Gun-control advocates seize upon incidents such as this to argue that we need more laws, more restrictions, we need to take weapons out of people’s homes. I disagree, and I point to my Mississippi cousins as examples of people who give their children guns just like the Kentucky family did, without any tragic results. Why should their rights be curtailed because of someone’s else’s accident?
This is a matter of personal responsibility. This family, I am sorry to say, did not handle that weapon responsibly. If anyone should be punished for the tragic result, it should be the parents, but I don’t know what the justice system could do that would be worse than the horribly heavy price that they are already paying, and will pay for the rest of their lives. Call for safety awareness, not for disarmament.