Clayton girl’s accidental shooting calls attention to the dangers of children and firearms

Johnston County News

CLAYTON, N.C. (WNCN) — A 2-year-old remains in the hospital fighting for her life Sunday night.

Clayton police say the child’s sibling got a hold of a gun in the home Friday and accidentally shot the toddler girl in the head.

“I mean, I had an officer probably within the last hour crying upstairs about having seen this,” said Clayton Police Chief Blair Myhand.

Myhand says charges against the gun owner are possible.

This comes just one week after a 2-year-old child shot and killed themselves after getting a hold of a gun in their Fayetteville home. Charges are also possible in that case.

State data shows that more than 800 children visited hospital emergency rooms for gunshot wounds between 2016 and 2018. The juvenile firearm death rate has increased by 59 percent since 2009, and less than half of gun-owning parents in North Carolina keep their guns secured.

But charging and prosecuting the parents in these cases can be complicated.

“In North Carolina, it is a crime for you to fail to secure your firearm from children. So when considering charges we’re looking to make sure the adult in the house or the gun owner secured the firearm and no one else could get access to it,” said Myhand

Adults could face anywhere from a misdemeanor up to a homicide charge depending on the case.

Charges could vary depending on if the child got into the secured location or if the gun was left out and readily accessible. There’s also gray area when deciding to prosecute grieving parents.

“The first question that a prosecutor is going to have to ask is was the parent somehow at fault. Is it going to deter other parents, is it appropriate to punish the parents in these instances or do we feel as though the suffering caused by the loss of their child makes a prosecution here inappropriate,” said Carissa Byrne Hessick, UNC Distinguished Professor of Law/ Prosecutors and Politics Project director.

Both experts say the best thing way to avoid these situations is to lock up guns in a secure location away from children.

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