In southern Kentucky, where children get their first guns even before they start first grade, Stephanie Sparks paid little attention as her 5-year-old son, Kristian, played with the rifle he was given last year. Then, as she stepped onto the front porch while cleaning the kitchen, “she heard the gun go off,” a coroner said.
In a horrific accident Tuesday that shocked a rural area far removed from the national debate over gun control, the boy had killed his 2-year-old sister, Caroline, with a single shot to the chest.
“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation,” Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said. “You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”
What is more unusual than a child having a gun, he said, is “that a kid would get shot with it.”
In this case, the rifle was made by a company that sells guns specifically for children — “My first rifle” is the slogan — in colors ranging from plain brown to hot pink to orange to royal blue to multicolor swirls.
Kristian’s rifle was kept in a corner of the mobile home, and the family didn’t realize a bullet had been left in it.
“It’s a normal way of life, and it’s not just rural Kentucky, it’s rural America — hunting and shooting and sport fishing. It starts at an early age,” said Cumberland County Judge Executive John Phelps. “There’s probably not a household in this county that doesn’t have a gun.”
White said the boy received the .22-caliber rifle as a gift, but it wasn’t clear who gave him the gun, which is known as a Crickett.
The company that makes the rifle, Milton, Pa.-based Keystone Sporting Arms, has a “Kids Corner” on its website with pictures of young boys and girls at shooting ranges and on bird and deer hunts. It says the company produced 60,000 Crickett and Chipmunk rifles for kids in 2008.
Sharon Rengers, a longtime child advocate at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, said making and marketing weapons specifically for children was “mind-boggling.”