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No charges likely in case of Chattanooga toddler with gun, DA says

Police car lights. (Alexandru Cuznetov/Dreamstime/TNS)

No one will likely be charged with a crime after a Chattanooga 2-year-old had access to shoot and injure his brother with a gun Saturday, according to Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp.

The toddler found a gun in a home on Arlington Avenue, a release from Chattanooga police said Saturday, and shot his 13-year-old brother.

The brother was taken to a hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries Saturday night, police said.

“In the case from this weekend, we are just very fortunate that the 13-year-old child is alive and recovering,” Wamp said in an email Monday.

In Tennessee, there is no criminal penalty for unsafe storage of a firearm, although people can be charged for “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” providing a handgun to minors.

“Our current review of the incident in Chattanooga this weekend does not implicate a criminal offense,” Wamp said.

Investigators with Chattanooga police were still working the case and talking with the family as of Tuesday and had not assessed any charges at that point, Assistant Chief Jerri Sutton said in an email. The police report on the incident was not available Tuesday because the investigation is still open, Sutton said.

“There are thousands of responsible gun owners in our community who safely store their firearms so as not to endanger others, especially children,” Wamp said. “There are also instances in which accidents happen, and there is no need or reason for criminal statutes to be implicated. This office in no way wants to hamper the lawful and responsible carrying of firearms.”

Incidents of 2-year-olds wielding guns are not unheard of:

— In December, an Atlanta 2-year-old accidentally fired a gun and was injured at a home.

— In Florida, another mother was charged with manslaughter after her 2-year-old son used a gun found in the home to shoot and kill his father in May.

— In 2021, a man was shot and killed by his 2-year-old son in North Carolina. Reports said the boy found the gun and thought it was a toy.

— In 2020, a 2-year-old in Atlanta shot himself in the head after finding a loaded gun in his home.

Older children have also been endangered.

In January, the father of an Indiana 4-year-old was charged with neglect and dangerous control of a firearm after the toddler was captured on a live television show toting around a loaded gun on the landing of his apartment building.

Just days before, a 6-year-old shot his teacher in Newport News, Virginia, injuring her with a gun brought from home.

A DeKalb County, Georgia, mother was charged with murder in August after her 4-year-old daughter reportedly found her mother’s gun under the driver’s seat of the woman’s car and then the toddler shot and killed herself.

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for children in the U.S., surpassing car accidents and disease.

In a news conference earlier this month, Wamp said her office is planning a campaign to promote gun safety in Hamilton County, specifically discouraging people from leaving guns in their cars.

The campaign will place billboards spreading awareness about gun violence and showing the number of firearms stolen from cars in the area, Wamp said. The office is still deciding where the billboards will be placed and what exactly they will say, according to Wamp.

In 2022, Tennessee led the nation in the number of guns stolen from cars, according to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control nonprofit organization. The study ranked Chattanooga as the U.S. city with the second-highest rate of gun thefts, behind Memphis.

Hamilton County reported 386 guns stolen from cars in 2022, Wamp said during the Feb. 3 news conference. Most of those were taken from unlocked vehicles, according to Wamp.

Guns should be locked and stored in a safe place, Sutton said, such as a safe if possible. Ammunition should also be locked away from children and unauthorized users, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Matt Lea said in an email Tuesday


— Store firearms unloaded in a safe or lockbox and ammunition in a separate locked location. Using gun trigger locks, which typically cost between $10-15, also adds a layer of safety.

— If there are guns in your home, you can talk to your children about how to react if they find them. The National Rifle Association recommends teaching children four steps: stop if you see a gun, don’t touch it, leave the area and tell an adult.


(c) 2023 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press

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