In a case that starkly illustrates the deadly consequences that the US’s permissive gun culture has on the country’s youth, a three-year-old girl accidentally shot her four-year-old sister to death in their Texas home late on Sunday, according to authorities.
First responders found the slain girl while responding to an emergency call at 7.30pm about an injured minor at an apartment in suburban Houston, the local sheriff’s office said in a statement. She was there with five adults – including her mother and stepfather – when her younger sister grabbed a loaded semi-automatic pistol and shot her, first responders learned.
The adults all believed at least one of the others were watching the girls, but no one was supervising them while they were in the bedroom, the sheriff of Harris country, Ed Gonzalez, told reporters.
The girl was pronounced dead at the scene, and it was not immediately clear whether any of the adults would face criminal charges for failing to make sure the gun used in the shooting was inaccessible to the children.
“It just seems like another tragic story of a child gaining access to a firearm and hurting someone else,” Gonzalez told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “Our hearts are broken.
“The community is [affected] when a child loses their life in this way.”
Gonzalez added that the killing illustrated the need for owners of guns to be responsible with their weapons.
“You’ve got to … secure your weapons in a safe place,” Gonzalez said to reporters. “It’s got to be more than just to tell the kids not to touch the weapons.”
Neither the dead four-year-old girl, her sister nor any of their family members had been publicly identified as of Monday.
Gun violence and accidents in recent years became the leading cause of death for children in the US, surpassing car crashes, injuries for other reasons and congenital diseases. The research and policy non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safetyestimates that 19,000 children and teens are shot and killed or wounded annually.
While deadly school shootings like the one that killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, last year command the most news headlines, the vast majority of child and teen gun killings – intentional and accidental – occur in their homes, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
The group estimates that another three million youths annually know someone who is shot – or witness and hear gunshots – in their homes, neighborhoods and schools, which deeply affects them even if they are not directly physically injured themselves.
Congress last year voted to expand background checks for the youngest gun buyers while funding mental health and violence intervention programs. But US lawmakers have otherwise been either unwilling or unable to pass more substantial gun control measures.
This article was amended on 13 March 2023. An earlier version said that the three-year-old who had died had not been identified, when it should have said four-year-old.