Since Feb. 22, three children have been accidentally shot in Washington state, two of them fatally. Calls are being made to re-examine the state's gun laws that are considered lax compared to other jurisdictions.
The third tragedy happened in the early hours of Wednesday morning. A three-year-old toddler was in a car with his mother, her boyfriend, and his one-year-old sister.
The boyfriend stopped at a Tacoma gas station and put his loaded gun, for which he had a valid carry permit, under the seat. While he was pumping gas and the boy's mother went into the convenience store, the three-year-old got out of his child seat, found the gun, and shot himself in the head. His sister was uninjured.
Julio Segura-McIntosh was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Naveed Benjamin, a Tacoma police officer, was quoted by CTV News saying, It's incredible in light of the other ones. You would think people would take more care, not less.
The officer added, You can't predict what children are going to do. You need to unload and lock it up if you're not carrying it. It's really not that hard to practice firearm safety.
It was only the Saturday before that there was another similar death. Derek Carlile, a Marysville police officer, and his wife were outside their vehicle in Stanwood, leaving children inside. Jenna Carlile, 7, was shot after her younger brother found a loaded gun in the car's glove compartment. Jenna was taken to a hospital in Seattle where she died the next day.
Carlile has been placed on paid administrative leave while the incident is being investigated.
Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith compared Jenna's death to the injury or death of a police officer. He was quoted by KOMO as saying, It's tragic. It's extremely difficult for us as a department. We are rallying around because that's what we do and we try to do the best that we can.
On Feb. 22, as students at Armin Jahr Elementary School in Bremerton were finishing their day, a loaded gun in the backpack of a nine-year-old boy went off, striking a classmate, Amina Kocer-Bowman. The young girl was taken to hospital in critical condition and the unnamed boy was charged with unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and third degree assault. He has since pleaded guilty in juvenile court.
Compared to other states and jurisdictions, Washington's gun laws are relatively lax. Storing a firearm in an unsafe place or a place where children can gain access is not a specific offence. While the nine-year-old boy in the February shooting was charged, the latter two incidents are viewed as tragic accidents rather than as criminal acts.
The three shootings in three weeks have reignited a debate about whether Washington's gun laws need to be changed. Proponents of changes argue stricter laws are needed while gun rights advocates say laws cannot prevent people from making mistakes.
State Senator Adam Kline (D-Seattle) said he is considering reintroducing a bill that would specifically make storage of a firearm in a place that children can gain access to, an act of reckless endangerment and therefore a specific criminal offence. While Kline acknowledged laws cannot prevent all crime, he said at least people would know leaving a gun where a child can get it is a criminal act. Kline was quoted in the Seattle Times asking, What society does not secure the health and safety of its own children?
Julio's mother's boyfriend is being investigated for a "possible" charge of manslaughter.