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Children With Guns: Who Gets Punished?

A bill before the Missouri Legislation would charge adults with child endangerment if they left a firearm where a child could reach it and accidentally injures someone. (Eric Underwood)
A bill before the Missouri Legislation would charge adults with child endangerment if they left a firearm where a child could reach it and accidentally injures someone. (Eric Underwood)
March 3, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri leads the nation in the number of children getting their hands on guns and accidentally hurting themselves or others.

Last year, five children shot themselves or someone else.

State Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) has authored a bill that says a person could be prosecuted for first-degree child endangerment if he or she knowingly fails to keep a loaded deadly weapon out of the reach of a child who's younger than 17.

Newman says it's needed to keep children safe.

"This is something that many states have in terms of tools to allow prosecutors to actually charge adults when their gun has been accidentally or negligently used by a child," she explains.

Newman's bill hasn't been assigned to committee yet. She says it's controversial, so if Missouri residents want to see it approved, they need to put pressure on their local lawmakers to make sure it comes up for a vote.

Newman says it's sad that lawmakers have to legislate what should just be common sense.

"Keeping cigarettes away from kids, putting your kids in a car seat, you know, making sure they're in a safe crib, making sure that you're not smothering them with blankets,” she points out. “We do have to put things into law because our children's lives should be worth it."

Newman says children are not in charge of their own safety – that's what adults are for.

Newman concedes it could be a rough road for the bill because it's a political year and gun legislation is always controversial. She says lawmakers aren't very consistent when it comes to protecting children.

"We spend so much time in our own Legislature talking about pro-life things in terms of trying to make abortion much harder to access,” she states. “It's all this thought about life, and yet on the other hand, when we're talking about guns and children's lives, it really should be a no-brainer."

The gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety says last year 265 children younger than 18 picked up a firearm and accidentally shot themselves or someone else. That works out to about five accidental shootings by children each week.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO