SEATTLE — A toddler shoots himself to death with his father's gun. A young girl dies when a sibling fires a gun found in the family car. A school girl is seriously wounded when a gun in a boy's backpack goes off.
Three tragic accidents in the span of just three weeks are raising questions about the effectiveness of the state's gun laws and community awareness of firearm safety.
Tacoma police Officer Naveed Benjamin said the 3-year-old boy's death Wednesday highlights the need for people to secure guns.
"It is incredible in light of the other ones," Benjamin said. "You would think people would take more care, not less."
After his parents stopped for gas early Wednesday, the young boy scrambled out of his child seat, found a gun police say was left in the car by his father and fatally shot himself in the head.
Tacoma police said his father put his pistol under a seat and got out to pump gas while the mother went inside the convenience store. The boy's infant sister, who also was in the car, was not injured.
The Pierce County medical examiner has identified the boy as Julio Segura-McIntosh of Tacoma.
Detectives questioned the parents and have called the shooting a tragic accident, Benjamin said. The father has a concealed weapons permit, and no charges have been filed, he said. Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that he is reviewing the case for possible manslaughter charges.
Washington does not have a law specifically concerning child access to firearms, but state law is very specific about carrying loaded pistols in vehicles.
A person with a concealed weapons permit may carry a gun in a car in Washington state, but is required to have it on his person. If they have to leave it in the car, the law says it must be locked and concealed from view.
The Wednesday shooting follows the death of the 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer in Stanwood on Saturday when a sibling found a gun and fired while the parents were out of their car. And on Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton classroom when a gun fired inside the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.
The two deaths represent an uptick in the number of these tragic accidents, according to Washington state health officials.
About one accidental firearm death of a child each year is typical in the state, according to state health statistics gathered between 2007 and 2010, said Health Department spokesman Tim Church. During that same time, an average of nine kids 17 and younger ended up in the hospital because of an accidental shooting, Church added.
"You can't predict what children are going to do," Benjamin said. "You need to unload and lock it up if you're not carrying it. ... It's really not that hard to practice firearm safety."
A spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation said existing laws are enough to encourage gun safety, as long as the gun owners obey them.
"Responsible people will maintain gun safety whether there is a law or not; irresponsible people will ignore the law," said Dave Workman, senior editor of the group's publication, thegunmag.com. He said existing statutes, including child endangerment laws, were designed to prevent such tragedies.
Workman said what he can't figure out is why the two men left their guns in their vehicles when they were licensed to carry them.
"Most responsible gun owners, especially if they're licensed to carry, will keep their firearm with them," Workman said.
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