Laws restricting gun ownership and use are few and far between in Kansas, including laws that might keep children from stumbling upon a gun owned by an adult.
Unlike about half the states in the U.S., Kansas lawmakers have shown little interest in enacting laws that would punish adults in cases where children are injured or killed after gaining access to unsecured weapons. The subject has not been debated in recent years in the Kansas Legislature, which has instead loosened several gun-related laws.
The state has broad laws against child endangerment that make it a crime to "knowingly and unreasonably" cause or permit people younger than 18 to be situations "in which the child's life, body or health may be endangered," but it doesn't mention firearms. It is also illegal to give a child a firearm with a barrel of less than 12 inches, with exceptions for safety courses or school shooting competitions.
The lack of debate comes as the state has recorded four deaths of children age 3 or under 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.
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 four such deaths in Kansas. They were:
- April 29, 2014: 1-year-old Ty'Marion Savoy Blacknel died in his home in Wichita. Police said he was accidentally shot by his 4-year-old brother.
- July 29, 2014: 3-year-old Jahmez Hunt died after accidentally shooting himself at his mother's home in Wichita. Mario T. Benjamin, 30, was sentenced to 18 months after a plea agreement for criminal possession of a firearm by a felon.
- Dec. 11, 2015: 3-year-old Kaden Nagle died after shooting himself at a South Hutchinson home.
- Nov. 4, 2016: 1-year-old Antoine Ray Rucker Jr. died after being shot in a car in Kansas City, Kansas. Antonie Ray Rucker Sr., 19, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated endangerment of a child and criminal possession of a firearm.
Aileen LeBlanc is news director at KMUW. Follow her on Twitter @Aileen_LeBlanc.
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