by Kara Platoni
Over the last 24 hours, there have been plenty of newspaper stories and TV news clips pondering whether or not Vallejo man Brian Sparks could have been lethally shot by his four-year-old son. Sparks' wife, Carol, had originally reported to 911 that the fatal shot was fired by the little boy. However, over the last news cycle, more reports have surfaced saying, as the Chron puts it, that although investigators "do not suspect foul play so far," neither are they "prepared to accept reports that a 4-year-old boy fatally shot his father." Among the news tidbits spurring speculation: that Vallejo police have tested mother, father and son for gunshot residue, that the mother's and son's stories allegedly don't completely match up, that the police are planning to re-interview them both, and that the police have mentioned concerns about the verbal testimony not matching physical evidence. Most notably, many have questioned whether or not a four-year-old has the physical ability to fire a gun. This clip from last night on ABC 7 is a good example. It's a terribly sad story, but if you bother to plug the phrases "four-year-old" and "gun" into Google, you will find an even sadder one.
The fact is, four-year-olds can and have pulled triggers in the past. Just last month, a four-year-old in Orlando, Florida shot his dad in the arm. In 2005, a Houston four-year-old shot his younger brother in the head, critically injuring him, and in 1998, a four-year-old in Greensboro, North Carolina, killed a six-year-old friend with a gun he found in a handbag. In some cases, tots who get ahold of guns end up wounding themselves: In 2003, a Chicago four-year-old shot himself with a gun he found at his grandmother's apartment, and in 1991 a New York four-year-old who found his dad's gun lying on the couch used it to shoot himself in the abdomen.
We could go on, but you get the point: it's far from impossible for a four-year-old to fire a gun -- any parent of one could tell you that much. Yes, this case will boil down to whether or not this particular gun could have been fired by this particular child -- after all, guns can have substantial differences in weight, trigger sensitivity, and safety features. But because kids can and do get ahold of things they shouldn't, gun safety advocates have long been pushing for the use of trigger locks, which parents can install to prevent guns from being fired, and for stricter gun storage laws that might prevent tots from finding the firearms in the first place. In a nation where, according to a 2005 article published in the journal Pediatrics, nearly 1.7 million children live in a house with a loaded and unlocked firearm, it seems like a good place to start.