A shooting in Wamego brings to mind the question of adult responsibility for children using guns.
We don’t know enough about that incident, which occurred Wednesday, to comment on much. The authorities are confirming only that a 31-year-old woman was shot in the upper chest with a handgun by a child, presumably her own, at about 8 Wednesday morning. They say the shooting was accidental, but the case is in the hands of prosecutors, so the Wamego cops are clamming up.
How old the child was, or what the child was doing with the gun, and in fact what the relationship between the people involved was, are all unclear. It seems reasonable at this point to assume no laws were broken, and the unnamed woman is a victim in a terrible accident who deserves sympathy and support.
There is nothing illegal or wrong about possessing a handgun. The presence of a child doesn’t change that; gun advocates would probably argue that having a gun actually improves the safety of the home for the child.
Somehow, though, a child evidently got hold of a handgun and shot his or her mother in the chest, at their home, on a weekday morning. That would indicate that the child most likely has no idea how to handle a gun.
Which means that somehow, the adults in the home failed to keep a deadly weapon out of the hands of a person who was not able to use it properly.
That is, again, not a criminal matter.
In the most noteworthy case on this subject, prosecutors are charging parents in Michigan with a crime because their 15-year-old son allegedly shot up his high school, killing four and seriously injuring several more. In that case, the parents bought the gun for the kid and evidently ignored signs of violent thoughts.
The prosecutor in that case is forging new ground, holding the parents criminally responsible for death. The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter.
That’s an outlier, and we’ll have to see if the prosecutor’s gambit even works. It’s going to be a stretch, since they didn’t pull the trigger, weren’t there, and didn’t tell him to do it.
Still, it raises the point: Parents are, in some ways, responsible for what their kids do, particularly younger kids. That’s a terrifying thought for most parents – if you aren’t one yet, just wait until you have a toddler careening around the house. It’s also terrifying as those kids become teenagers, when the stakes get much higher and they can drive.
In fact, driving is an interesting parallel. If a kid plows into somebody at a stoplight because he’s Snapchatting his buddy, is that the parents’ fault? The parents own the car and allowed the kid to use it, so how’s that any different from a gun?
The difference is that a gun doesn’t require licensing and testing, and can be easily accessible even to the youngest kids, and really exists only to injure or kill. The consequence of improper use can be severe, as we’re seeing in Wamego.
The answer, of course, is for parents who own guns to always, always, always assure that they can’t be used by kids.