Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gun culture extends to children, with fatal consequences

Like many, I was shocked by the news this week that a 5-year-old boy had shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a rifle--indeed, with the child's own rifle, which the boy had received for his 5th birthday.  Read more here and here.  This happened in Burkesville, Kentucky, population 1,756, which wikipedia describes as "[n]estled among the rolling foothills of Appalachia and bordered by the Cumberland River to the south and east."

The .22 rifle the boy used was called a Crickett and was marketed to children as "my first rifle."  The product comes with different design options on the shoulder stock, including pink to appeal to girls.  The gun was apparently stored in a corner of the family's mobile home, next to the child's BB gun, and the parents did not know it had a shell in it.  The incident has sparked debate over whether the children's parents should be prosecuted, and there is some talk of letting a grand jury decide.

One thing I find interesting in the media's coverage of this story are featured quotes from Kentucky locals that normalize gun ownership and use by children.  Here are some of those quotes, as reported in the Louisville Courier-Journal on May 2:
[C]ommunity and business leaders in Burkes­ville said they strongly support the couple and saw nothing unusual about giving a rifle to such a young child. 
“Learning how to use a gun at a young age has been common for generations in rural Kentucky,” said County Judge-Executive John A. Phelps Jr. 
He said it was a “mistake” to let the boy have access to the rifle, “but it was an accident.”
“These are good people, a normal, average Kentucky family who loved their children very much,” Phelps said.
Kathy Mosby, who runs Shapes Fitness Center in Burkesville, said the “whole community is behind the family,” while Terry Riley, general manager of Don Franklin Auto, a car dealer, said, what happened “can happen to any of us.”
County Coroner Gary White is quoted in the AP report that NPR picked up:
Down in Kentucky where we're from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. ... You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything. ... What is more unusual than a child having a gun is that a kid would get shot with it.  
I am not saying that it is inappropriate to include the quotes; the quotes do, after all, give one perspective on the events, and the media also note the contrary position, as in a quote from a pediatrician who co-wrote the American Academy of Pediatricians policy on children and guns.    

I was also struck by the detail included in this AP report (quoted by NPR) of what the mother was doing outside when the boy shot his sibling:
As Stephanie Sparks cleaned the kitchen, her 5-year-old son, Kristian, began playing with a rifle he was given last year. She stepped out onto the front porch, poured grease out of a frying pan for the dogs and 'heard the gun go off.'
This detail--"pour[ing] grease out of a frying pan for the dogs"--is so vivid.  It conjures up images from "Winter's Bone" and from my own upbringing in the rural Arkansas Ozarks.  But it's also arguably a rather inflammatory detail--suggesting "white trash." (The same could be said of the AP photo of the family's home, a run-down trailer, which accompanied the NPR report).  For folks like me, no household errand would justify a mother leaving her young children in the house with a loaded gun, but that is now how folks in rural Kentucky see it--especially for a parent who though the gun was no loaded.    

As it happens, the Courier-Journal reports a slightly different version of what the mother (here referred to by her last name rather than that of the children's father) was doing:   
Robinson was home, cleaning, at the time of the shooting, and said she had stepped out to empty a mop bucket when she heard a pop.
Maybe the children's mother was, in fact, taking care of both tasks, which I suppose increased the amount of time she was out of the home. The total time she was outside, which would be influenced by the number of tasks she was doing, would be legally relevant to establishing her possible negligence. 

Here is an NPR feature on when children are old enough to have guns.  The Kentucky shooting came on the heels of two other recent gun deaths at the hands of children.  One was in neighboring Tennessee, and the other was in New Jersey.  

Here is an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Joe Nocera, which mentions the Kentucky death.   Here is a Courier-Journal editorial about marketing guns to kids; it compares the gun industry's efforts to previous efforts by the tobacco industry to entice children to use their products.    


Gun Shooting Sports said...

There should some rules to hand such weapons to the Childern under some act before they do some thing wrong .

Patricija said...

I think the ploy of being inflammatory was purposeful. Maybe I will sound like a conspiracy theorist, but this is what I think. Gun control is a big push from urban liberals. I think urban conservatives are also starting to crack under the pressure. This rhetoric lines up gun control with rural, and rural is being framed as the opposite of progressive and "good." It is exploiting the rural urban divide - in fact, utilizing urban's downright contempt of rural folks - in an effort to push forward measures for gun control. I am very pro gun control (VERY), and therefore, I admit I struggle with whether the ends justify the means.