Adult Not-So-Supervision: 3 Year-Old And 7 Year-Old Killed In Vastly Different Gun Incidents

The accidental shooting death of two year-old Caroline Sparks, by her five year-old brother, has illuminated a new corner of the debate over guns: the marketing of guns to children. While some pro-gun pundits place the onus for such incidents on the presence, or lack thereof, of adult supervision, a pair of recent accidental child gun deaths demonstrates that adult supervision is not necessarily the determining factor in a child’s safety. In Arizona last week, a three year-old shot and killed himself with a handgun. A few weeks earlier, Kansas 7 year-old Gavin Brummett shot himself in the head with a semiautomatic handgun, and died one day later. They each enjoyed vastly different degrees of adult supervision, but the result was the same.

In Arizona last week, 3 year-old Darrien Nez shot and killed himself with a 9mm handgun belonging to his 35 year-old grandmother, Rachel Spry:

Court documents indicated that Spry had placed her 9mm handgun in a backpack and left it on top of a dryer while helping her daughter pack for a move. She had seen her grandson come into the room where the backpack was located, but she continued packing. About five minutes later, she heard a gunshot.

The court records also claimed that a methamphetamine pipe was found in the same backpack as the gun, and that she had admitted to using the drug the evening before the shooting occurred.

That sounds like a recipe for disaster, and a tragedy that’s easy for the gun culture to file away in the pile of isolated incidents of personal irresponsibility. Not so easy to dismiss is the death of 7 year-old Gavin Lee Brummett, who was out shooting with his family when the 9mm handgun he was using ended his life:

The sheriff’s office reported that Gavin had been with his brothers and his father, Rodney Lee Brummett Jr.,shooting a Master Piece Arms semi-automatic 9 millimeter handgun. Kochanowski confirmed Sunday that Gavin was shooting the gun. Rodney

Brummett reported that he heard two rapid-in-succession shots. When Rodney Brummett looked at Gavin, he observed the injury, and rushed his son to the hospital in Salina. Gavin was later flown by air ambulance to Wichita.

The little boy died the following day.

A detailed account of what happened to Gavin Brummett hasn’t been released, but this was not the result of meth-addled negligence; Gavin and his family were probably experienced shooters, and there’s no indication that his father did anything “wrong,” or failed to properly instruct his son in the proper handling of the gun. He was right there. What could have been done to prevent this? There’s nothing in the NRA’s guidelines for parents about not looking away for two seconds. (Those guidelines also say absolutely nothing about the risks posed by guns, other than the “possibility of an accident occurring.”)

Before we can even ask what can be done about this, however, we first need to agree that something should be done about it. The prevailing wisdom of the gun culture is that these tragedies are just the fruits of human fallibility, and all you can do is hope people act responsibly. The problem is, their idea of irresponsibility can never include the possibility that the mistake is putting the gun in the child’s hand in the first place.

There’s a cold-hearted argument to be made that if a parent is willing to assume the risk on behalf of their own child, then they ought to be able to do so. Set aside, for a moment, the question of whether this is even fair to those children, or the fact that the risk isn’t just to their own children. What if those parents don’t understand the risks, either? Everyone thinks their own guns are safe, until they aren’t.

One parent who, apparently, didn’t understand the risks was Dr. Charles Bizilj, whose 8 year-old son, Christopher, shot and killed himself at a machine gun shoot in 2008. At the trial of Edward Fleury, the former police chief who organized the event, jurors were shown video of the shooting. In the following (very difficult-to-watch) news report, an edited version of that video is shown, which stops short of the fatal shot. Christopher Bizilj‘s father is shooting the video, while a 15 year-old instructor supervises the child. They’re at a firing range, and the instructor has both hands on Christopher, and the result is still tragic:

Anyone familiar with this story knows that Massachusetts state law prohibits the “furnishing” of a machine gun to anyone under the age of 18, but the man who organized the event was acquitted in 2011, and charges were subsequently dropped against two others involved in the event.

Christopher Bizilj isn’t some kind of gun-culture aberration; he wasn’t even the only child to shoot a machine gun at that event. In Florida, where kids with machine guns are legal with parental permission, this video was shot a year after Christopher’s death:

In fact, the YouToobz are replete with videos of little kids shooting machine guns, including this four year-old:

Thankfully, none of these kids appear to have been injured. That’s probably because their parents took extraordinary precautions to minimize the risks to their kids, and are probably exceptionally attuned to gun safety. Even those qualities are no guarantee, but is it fair to leave children like Darrien Nez, or Caroline Sparks, or any child, to the luck of the draw, to the happenstance of vigilant parents, to the hope of a world without momentary lapses? Should anything be done to keep these kids safe?

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