Children under age 12 die from gun accidents in the U.S. once a week, on average. Almost every death begins with the same basic circumstances: an unsecured and loaded gun, and a guardian’s lapse in attention. Each ends with the same questions: Who is to blame, and should the person be punished? Those questions are answered haphazardly across the nation, report USA Today and the Associated Press. Nearly identical accidents can have markedly different outcomes. A shooting that leads to a prison sentence in one state can end with no prosecution in another.
In 2015, a North Carolina babysitter was charged with involuntary manslaughter when a 2-year-old she was watching shot herself with a 20-gauge shotgun she found on a table. Two months later, police and prosecutors in Colorado opted not to charge a babysitter after a 9-year-old boy was shot by his brother. The sitter had briefly left the boys unattended, and they found his loaded .38 Special in his pickup. Grandparents in Detroit, both 65, faced manslaughter and weapons charges after their 5-year-old granddaughter found a loaded pistol under their pillow and shot herself in the neck. In Illinois, a grandmother pleaded guilty to a minor gun charge and received probation after a 6-year-old boy found a revolver in a bedroom closet and shot himself. In a nation with almost as many guns as there are people, it’s not unusual to find loaded weapons within children’s reach. A study published in 2008 in the journal Health Education Research found there are firearms in about one-third of homes with children nationwide. Guns in half of those homes were kept unlocked; guns in one-sixth of them were kept loaded.