The shootings of three children in less than a month have sparked a new debate on Washington's gun-safety policies. Advocates for stricter laws argue that the incidents underscore the need for criminal penalties, while gun-rights supporters say no law can prevent what happened.
Gun-safety advocates say the accidental shootings of three children in the past three weeks underscore the need for tougher firearms laws in Washington.
But gun-rights supporters say no law can prevent the mistakes that led to the shootings that have killed two children and left an 8-year-old girl with serious injuries.
In the most recent shooting, a 3-year-old boy fatally shot himself in the head early Wednesday morning with a handgun left in a car parked at a gas station near the Tacoma Mall. Tacoma police said the boyfriend of the boy’s mother put his pistol under the front seat and got out to pump gas while the mother went inside the convenience store.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the boy as Julio Segura-McIntosh, of Tacoma.
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The boy’s 1-year-old sister, who also was in the car when the gun went off, was not injured.
The man has a concealed-weapons permit, said Tacoma police spokesman Naveed Benjamin. Detectives questioned and released the couple.
Investigators call the shooting a tragic accident, said Benjamin.
On Saturday, Jenna Carlile, the 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer, died after she was shot by her younger brother while they were alone in the family car in Stanwood. The father, Officer Derek Carlisle, had left a handgun in the vehicle and was standing outside with his wife when the shooting occurred, according to police.
On Feb. 22, 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman was critically wounded at an East Bremerton elementary school after a gun in a classmate’s backpack accidentally discharged. A 9-year-old boy told police he had taken the gun from the home of his mother and her boyfriend.
State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the shootings highlight the need for clear criminal penalties for adults who leave loaded firearms in locations accessible to children under the age of 12.
Kline said he is considering reintroducing a bill during the upcoming special legislative session to clarify that the unsafe storage of firearms around children constitutes reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The measure didn’t pass out of committee during the last session.
The state’s current reckless-endangerment statute is unclear on the subject.
“What society does not secure the health and safety of its own children?” said Kline.
Kline acknowledged that “no law prevents all crime” but said he believes the change in law “would make people more conscious of their actions” because the law would clearly state that leaving guns in places accessed by children is a criminal act.
Dave Workman, senior editor at Bellevue-based Gun Week Magazine and spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation, said “fundamental firearms safety mistakes” were made in the Tacoma and Stanwood shootings.
“We can discuss all sort of firearms safety mandates, but that’s not going to make any difference and bring these children back,” Workman said Wednesday. “I’m not sure that anything could have prevented either incident, except a little common sense.”
Workman and many gun-rights advocates oppose Kline’s legislative proposal, saying the current reckless-endangerment law goes far enough.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office will review possible manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting in Tacoma.
“We take a pretty aggressive look at these kinds of incidents. We will start by reviewing possible manslaughter charges and work our way down from there,” he said.
While Washington does not have a law specifically concerning child access to firearms, 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. If the person has to leave it behind in the car, the law says it must be locked and concealed from view.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said in an email he would not talk about potential criminal charges in Saturday’s shooting, which resulted in the death of the 7-year-old Camano Island girl.
“There will be plenty of time for that … right now I am just thinking about the staggering loss of a child,” Roe wrote. “The [Snohomish County] Sheriff’s Office is investigating, and if and when they refer a case to us, we will review it and make a decision.”
Cmdr. Robb Lamoureux; a spokesman for the Marysville Police Department, has said Officer Carlile is on paid administrative leave while the case is investigated.
In the Bremerton school case, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge on Tuesday filed third-degree-assault charges against the 9-year-old boy’s mother and her boyfriend. Several legal experts called the assault charge unprecedented for criminal responsibility in a case in which a shooting results after a child obtains a firearm.
The 9-year-old boy pleaded guilty in juvenile court to reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a firearm and bringing a weapon to school.
About one accidental firearm death of a child each year is typical in Washington, according to state health statistics gathered between 2007 and 2010, said state Department of Health spokesman Tim Church. During that same time period, an average of nine children 17 and younger ended up in the hospital each year because of an accidental shooting, Church added.
“If you’re going to own a firearm you need to take responsibility for it,” said Benjamin, the Tacoma police spokesman. “You can’t predict what children are going to do.”
According to the Legal Community Against Violence, a San Francisco-based anti-firearms group, nearly 30 states have gun-safety laws, including requirements for trigger locks, designed to protect children. Washington is not among them.
Washington state lawmakers considered a measure in the regular legislative session that ended Friday that would have required additional testing of gun locks and safes before the equipment is distributed to law-enforcement officers for home use.
The bill was prompted by the 2010 death of a Clark County deputy’s 3-year-old son, who took a gun from a department-issued safe, which the family insisted was faulty.
Opposition to the bill mainly focused on the cost of providing safety devices to hundreds of fish-and-wildlife volunteers and hunting-safety instructors. The bill floundered in the House as lawmakers turned their focus to the state budget.
In 1997, Washington Initiative 676, also known as the Handgun Trigger Locks Initiative, was trounced by state voters by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, and in every county.
The initiative, which was fought hard by local law enforcement as well as the National Rifle Association, would have mandated trigger locks and required handgun owners to take a test or safety-training course to obtain a state license.
Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney for the Legal Community Against Violence, said nearly a dozen states require that firearms have trigger-locking devices when they are sold. New York, Vermont and Pennsylvania are considering laws to prevent adults from leaving firearms in areas accessible by children, she added.
But Workman, the Second Amendment Foundation spokesman, said he believes additional legislation and restrictions are an overreaction.
“I’ve worked 30 years as a firearms instructor. I don’t see any reason to pillory every gun owner in this state because we’ve have two horrible accidents,” Workman said. “Legislating against every gun owner in the state of Washington won’t keep anyone from making a mistake. We have all sorts of drunk-driving laws in this state, and it doesn’t stop people from driving drunk.”
Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives and The Associated Press.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.