Debate on punishing adults when children find guns stalls

An arrest was made after 21-month-old Carter Epps fatally shot himself in north St. Louis County. (Photo: GoFundMe Page)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is one of several states where proposals to punish adults in fatality cases where children gained access to unsecured weapons have stalled in the Legislature.

The issues arises as Missouri recorded six children ages 3 and under dying in accidental shootings between 2014 and 2016, according to data compiled by The Associated Press and the USA TODAY Network, which examined cases across the country in which children killed themselves or other children after gaining access to unsecured firearms.

Under Missouri law, anyone who sells, leases, loans, or gives away a firearm to a minor without the parent or guardian's consent can be charged with a class A misdemeanor.

During the just completed legislative session, several Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation to prevent minors from possessing firearms and setting punishments for people who sell, lease or transport guns to them. One proposal included a provision punishing parents or guardians for "negligent storage of a firearm" for leaving a gun in the reach of a child and setting harsh penalties if the child takes it to school or hurts someone with it. None of the proposals made it to the floor for debate.

At least 21 states and the District of Columbia have child-access laws that deal with negligent storage of firearms, but the AP-USA TODAY research found the laws are enforced in widely varying ways.

Public health experts say the laws could reduce unintentional shootings that kill and injure hundreds of children every year, especially if they are paired with educational campaigns to raise awareness. Critics say such laws violate the rights of gun owners and single out weapons when such things as swimming pools and prescription drugs also can cause accidental deaths of children.

Data from the Gun Violence Archive on 152 instances of children under 12 who accidentally fatally shot either themselves or were shot by another juvenile from 2014 to 2016 found six such deaths in Missouri during that time period. They were:

— June 2, 2014: 3-year-old Miranda Doerr died of a gunshot wound at her home east of Joplin. The Newton County coroner ruled she didn't shoot herself but said he couldn't say definitely who shot the girl. Miranda's 6-year-old brother was in the house and her mother was home but in another part of the residence.

— Jan. 19, 2015: 9-month-old Corbin Wiederholt died after being shot at his grandfather's home in Elmo. Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White said the child was accidentally shot by his 5-year-old brother.

— July 7, 2015: 3-year-old Deveoena Michelle Rimson died in her father's home in Kansas City. Police said she found a gun and shot herself. Devin D. Johnson, 26, was charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

— Aug. 8, 2015: 1-year-old Carter Epps died after shooting himself at his grandmother's house in the St. Louis area. His father, Corey R. Epps, 26, was sentenced to five years in prison for first-degree endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with physical evidence.

— April 27, 2016: 2-year-old Shaquille Kornegay died of a gunshot wound in her home in Kansas City. Her father, Courtenay Shaquel Block, was incarcerated after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death and tampering with physical evidence.

— Oct. 27, 2016: 3-year-old Jermone Green died after being shot at his home in Kansas City. Police determined he was accidentally shot by his 5-year-old brother.

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