4-Year Old Boy Finds Unsecured Gun, Fatally Shoots Father

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The investigation into how a 4-year-old Arizona boy was able to access a gun and fatally shoot his father continues.

Justin Stanfield Thomas, 35, traveled with his son from Phoenix to Prescott Valley for a surprise visit to a friend’s house last Friday. The boy quickly got his hands on a loaded .380 caliber semi-automatic handgun, asked a question about it and squeezed the trigger, according to Prescott Valley police Sgt. Brandon Bonney.

The homeowner was in a back bedroom when Thomas and his son arrived. Bonney said that he kept the weapon for self-defense and did not have any children of his own.

"He really wasn't in a position to know they were there or to go and secure his gun," Bonney said. "With this person, living by himself, there wasn't necessarily any legal requirement to keep that weapon locked away."

No charges are expected to be filed, but the case does raise questions about how firearms should be secured even when children are not around.

"We're still responsible for our weapons," Bonney said. "But do we require people to lock them up all the time no matter what, which might defeat the purpose of home defense?"

Many believe gun owners should have control of their weapons at all times, The Huffington Post reported.

"If it's not on you or in a secured location, out of reach and hidden, it needs to be locked up," said Larry Kolontar, who teaches firearms safety. "This is a very sad, horrible situation, but it's one of those things that could have been avoided if the owner would have taken a little more responsibility and secured the weapon."

Justin Peters wrote an editorial on Slate about the issue. Here’s an excerpt:

And, still, this wasn’t really an accident, was it? If you own a gun, you have a responsibility to never, ever forget about that gun, and where it is at any given moment, and whether or not it’s in a position where it might kill someone. If you have a gun in the house, and your old friend randomly shows up one day with his kid in tow, the first thing you say — perhaps a second after 'Good to see you'— should be 'Hold on, I have a loaded gun sitting in my living room. Let me put that away before you come in.'

Now, my guess is that the friend was surprised to see Thomas, and that, in the ensuing excitement, the status of his gun slipped his mind. But it can’t slip your mind, ever. Put a rubber band around your wrist to help you remember. Erect signs around your house that read, “Is my gun loaded and in the living room, or is it locked up where it belongs?”

Bonney said investigators are still looking into whether the homeowner had a reasonable amount of time to secure the weapon.

Sources: The Huffington Post, Slate