Citing a wave of accidental shootings of kids handling guns, Detroit's prosecutor on Wednesday announced criminal charges in two recent cases and called for a broader public health campaign to get more firearm owners to secure their weapons.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office had filed manslaughter charges against a couple whose 5-year-old grandchild shot herself to death with a handgun stashed under a pillow. The prosecutor also filed child abuse charges against the great-grandfather and mother of a 4-year-old boy who shot himself in the hand.
Those victims were among eight who have killed or seriously injured themselves with unsecured guns in the past 17 months in the county, Worthy said. In a majority of cases, the guns were legally owned by people who apparently didn't take enough care to hide them or lock them away.
"Most of the time, children know where they are, even if parents think they don't," Worthy said. "And all of this is totally and completely and absolutely preventable."
Gun violence researchers agree — and credit laws requiring parents to safely store guns for a nationwide decline in accidental firearm deaths over the last couple decades (although some say such shootings are under-reported). Earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found seven states, all without safe-storage laws, with disproportionately high rates of unintentional gun deaths. Michigan was not on that list, which focused on the Southeast and Appalachia.
Michigan requires gun dealers to include a lock or safe-storage container with all sales. But it is not among the 27 states with "child access prevention" laws that make it a crime for adults to let children handle guns without supervision. Worthy said Michigan needed to pass one.
Nationwide, 868 children aged 14 and under have been killed in accidental shootings since 2001, including 50 in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available. There were far more scenarios in which children were injured but did not die: an estimated 10,543 during that period, including 725 in 2014.
Worthy said she planned to hold a meeting with hospital executives to plan a campaign to teach gun-owning parents how to keep their children safe. That could include requiring pediatricians to provide literature or have followup conversations about proper gun storage.
She also called for mandatory classes for gun owners, and the adoption of "smart-gun" technology, which the gun industry has resisted as a requirement for gun ownership.
Worthy, the mother of two young boys, said parents who don't own guns shouldn't feel invulnerable. They should be nosy about other homes their children visit, asking if the adults there have guns and how they are secured, she said.
"Children and teenagers are somehow magnetically drawn to firearms," Worthy said.
There is no shortage of examples. Her office keeps a spreadsheet of child shooting cases dating back to 2005. It lists 14 victims.
At the top is Mariah Davis, the 5-year-old granddaughter of Frederick Davis and Patricia McNeal. On May 11, they were babysitting her and two other children when Mariah entered their bedroom around midnight, authorities said. She took a handgun from under a pillow, brought it into another room, and shot herself in the neck.
Davis, 65, and McNeal, 64, were charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter, child abuse and illegal gun possession. Davis, who has a drug conviction on his record, was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Also charged Wednesday were Joseph Williams, 80, and his 30-year-old granddaughter, Andrea Drewery. On the morning of Nov. 2, authorities said, Drewery's 4-year-old son found a handgun belonging to Williams and shot himself in the hand. Prosecutors allege that Williams and Drewery knew the gun was not safely secured while the boy and his brother were around. They were charged with child abuse and illegal gun possession.
In both cases, the adults are expected to turn themselves in to authorities on Thursday, Worthy said.
Meantime, Worthy's office is preparing for the trial of Christopher Head, whose 10-year-old daughter allegedly found a loaded sawed-off shotgun in his bedroom closet and began mimicking a video game she and her younger brother were playing. The gun went off, hitting the 9-year-old brother, Daylen, in the head, killing him.
Head has been charged with second degree murder. Some have criticized Worthy for being too rough on a grieving father.
At a court hearing last year, a Detroit police detective recalled his interview with Head, according to local news reports. Head reportedly admitted to leaving the gun in the closet but said he thought the safety was on, and that his children would abide by his warning not to go near it.
The father ended the interview with a closing statement: "I love my boy and I'm going to miss him."