Is It Ever Really an Accident When a 4-Year-Old Shoots and Kills His Father?

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 10 2013 3:03 PM

Is It Ever Really an Accident When a 4-Year-Old Shoots and Kills His Father?

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A placard memorializing children who were victims of gun violence is displayed during a demonstration in front of the White House on May 6, 2013.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

A 4-year-old Arizona boy accidentally shot and killed his father Friday with a loaded, unsecured gun he found while the two were visiting a friend of the family. “The boy found the loaded gun in the home within minutes of arrival, asked a question about it and pulled the trigger,” reports the Associated Press; the bullet struck the boy’s father, Justin Thomas, who later died at a nearby hospital. The AP reports that authorities don’t plan to seek charges against the gun’s owner. Yet another “sad accident.”

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I have written repeatedly that, when it comes to kids and guns, there is no such thing as an “accidental” shooting. I’ll stand by that point—even though, in this particular case, it’s hard to blame the gun owner for what happened. According to the AP, Thomas’ visit was a spur-of-the-moment trip that took his friend by surprise. The friend doesn’t have children of his own, so you can’t really blame him for failing to childproof his gun. If an accidental child-related shooting could ever be qualified as legitimately accidental, it’s this one.

And, still, this wasn’t really an accident, was it? If you own a gun, you have a responsibility to never, ever forget about that gun, and where it is at any given moment, and whether or not it’s in a position where it might kill someone. If you have a gun in the house, and your old friend randomly shows up one day with his kid in tow, the first thing you say—perhaps a second after “Good to see you”—should be “Hold on, I have a loaded gun sitting in my living room. Let me put that away before you come in.” Now, my guess is that the friend was surprised to see Thomas, and that, in the ensuing excitement, the status of his gun slipped his mind. But it can’t slip your mind, ever. Put a rubber band around your wrist to help you remember. Erect signs around your house that read, “Is my gun loaded and in the living room, or is it locked up where it belongs?”

We ought to think of owning a gun as just as big a responsibility as having a kid. Which brings up another point: If you have a kid, please teach him what to do if he ever comes across a gun, whether or not you, the parent, actually own one. I hate that this is something we need to worry about these days, but it is. The NRA has a gun safety mascot called Eddie Eagle (more on Eddie Eagle later, probably), who offers the following four rules for what young children should do if they ever come across a gun: “STOP! Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.” This is good advice. Make sure your kid knows it by heart.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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