Three accidental child shootings in the St. Louis area in recent days have left prosecutors facing a delicate decision, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In Missouri and Illinois, a parent can be charged if they knowingly or recklessly leave a firearm where a child can access it. It is up to a prosecutor to weigh the nuances of the case — including the age of the child, that child’s familiarity with guns, and the actions of the gun owner — to determine whether charges are warranted.
The decision is made against an emotionally charged backdrop, as with all accidental deaths. A quiet infant is left in a hot car by a distracted parent. A toddler runs toward a lake while his grandmother is inside talking on the phone. In each case, the potential defendant is already wrestling with their own punishment. “They’ve suffered a great loss already. To put them in prison — does that add insult to injury?” said Timothy Maher, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “It’s a tough call for prosecutors.” In one case, 3-year-old Daniel Metz fatally shot himself with a handgun he found in his home. Daniel’s father, Maryland Heights police officer Ryan Metz, was one of the first to respond.