SEATTLE – A 3-year-old boy fatally shot himself with a gun he found in a car while his family stopped for gas early Wednesday at a gas station in the western U.S. state of Washington, police said.
It was the third recent shooting by a child in western Washington.
"It is incredible in light of the other ones," said Naveed Benjamin, a police officer in Tacoma, where the shooting occurred. "You would think people would take more care, not less."
The family had stopped for gas about 12:30 a.m. The father put his pistol under the seat and got out to pump gas while the mother went inside the convenience store, Benjamin said.
They left their son and their infant daughter in the car. The boy climbed out of his child seat, found the gun and shot himself in the head, police said. He was declared dead at a hospital. The girl was not injured.
Detectives questioned the parents and have called the shooting a tragic accident, Benjamin said.
The father has a concealed weapons permit, and no charges are anticipated, he said.
Washington state does not have a law specifically concerning child access to firearms.
The shooting follows the death of the 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer in Stanwood on Saturday when a sibling found a gun and fired while the parents were out of their car. And on Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton classroom when a gun fired inside the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.
"It's another tragedy in a very short period of time," Benjamin said.
It highlights the need for people to secure guns, he said.
"You can't predict what children are going to do," he said. "You need to unload and lock it up if you're not carrying it. ... It's really not that hard to practice firearm safety."
Twenty-seven states have some form of law to prevent child access to firearms, but Washington is not one of them. Such laws can include criminal penalties for adults who allow children to get their hands on guns, according to the San Francisco-based group Legal Community Against Violence.
A spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation said existing laws are enough to encourage gun safety, as long as the gun owners obey them.
"Responsible people will maintain gun safety whether there is a law or not; irresponsible people will ignore the law," said Dave Workman, senior editor of the group's publication, called thegunmag.com. He said existing statutes, including child endangerment laws, were designed to prevent such tragedies.
Workman said what he can't figure out is why the two men left their guns in their vehicles when they were licensed to carry them.
"Most responsible gun owners, especially if they're licensed to carry, will keep their firearm with them," Workman said.
News of the latest shooting caused Washington Cease Fire Executive Director Gregory Roberts to groan, "Oh no." The Seattle organization is currently running a campaign of ads on buses urging people to think twice about owning guns.
"We think guns are dangerous, but they are not treated as dangerous by our society or by laws or by our regulations," he said. "We regard guns as some sort of sacred object that should not be subject to regulation."