Florida police urge parents to secure guns after 4-year-old shoots mom

A gun control advocacy group estimates that in 2015, there were 265 children who accidentally shot themselves or someone else with a firearm.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Permitted gun owner Shane Gazda displays his gun collection as his children Savannah and Declan look on at the kitchen table of their home in Clayton, N.C., on Thursday, February 2, 2012. A 4-year-old in Florida shot his mother (not pictured) in the back Tuesday afternoon, prompting officials to urge parents to secure their weapons.

A 4-year-old boy in north Florida shot his mother as the two of them were in her pickup truck Tuesday afternoon. Authorities including the state Department of Children and Families, are now investigating how the toddler had access to the weapon.

The Jacksonville mother, Jamie Gilt, is in stable condition, but was shot in the back with a .45-caliber gun that police say she owned. The boy was not hurt and is currently in the care of relatives. Law enforcement used the incident to promote gun safety, especially around children's access to weapons.

"[Parents] must keep firearms secured and locked," Putnam County Sheriff's Office spokesman Joseph Wells said Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Florida is among 27 states and Washington, D.C. that have child access protection laws that prohibit the storage of a loaded gun where children may have access to it.

Researchers have found that millions of American children live in homes with readily obtainable guns. As many as one in every three handguns are kept loaded and unlocked, a study has found. As a result, accidents similar to that of Gilt and her son happen too frequently.

In 2015, at least 265 children under the age of 18 accidentally shot themselves or someone else with a firearm, as reported by control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That’s about five shootings every week. Of the 265 incidents, 83 resulted in a fatality.

While the National Rifle Association has opposed access prevention laws, arguing that it could lead to civil rights abuse on a larger scale, the gun rights group recommends gun owners to always keep a gun unloaded until it’s to be used.

“Many factors must be considered when deciding where and how to store guns,” the organization’s training website read. “A person's particular situation will be a major part of the consideration. Dozens of gun storage devices, as well as locking devices that attach directly to the gun, are available.”

Gun safety experts recommend using lock boxes or safes, as well as trigger locks that go around the weapon. But beyond these concrete precautions, parents can also educate their children on gun safety and instill a mindset of responsibility, fire-arms advocates say.

“One of the first things any new mother learns is that children are very curious. It’s how they learn about the world,” Kathy Jackson, a professional firearms trainer and a mother of five writes on her website.

“It is my belief that any child who has his curiosity satisfied in safe ways is far less likely to look for ways to satisfy it that aren’t so safe," she writes. "If he has permission to handle mom’s handgun while she is standing right there watching him and keeping him from doing something stupid, he is less likely to go looking for the gun when she is not around to protect him.”

Gilt, a gun-rights advocate herself, may have taken steps to teach her young son how to shoot. A Facebook page belonging to a Jamie Gilt includes a post from he day before the incident that suggested as much, The Florida Times Union reported Tuesday.

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