After 6 children were shot after finding firearms this year, Detroit officials delivering gun locks

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Children have been finding guns and shooting themselves or others so frequently in Detroit recently that law enforcement officials are offering to deliver gun locks to citizens' doorsteps.

"Detroit’s babies are getting shot in record numbers for us," Detroit Police Chief James White said Tuesday during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters. "Our focus is on how to solve that problem."

This year, six Detroit children have been "shot in the homes or backyards ... of lawful gun owners," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said during the press briefing.

No children died from shootings after finding guns in 2020 or 2021, "but we already have three such cases in our young year of 2022," Worthy said. She said there were 15 nonfatal cases last year.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy discusses gun violence against Detroit children who have found loaded, unsecured weapons that are not properly locked by their owners. Detroit police Chief James White (center), and Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington also attending the press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022 in Detroit.

Recent cases include a five-year-old boy who police say was shot in the chest on Feb. 17 after finding his grandmother's gun beneath a bed; and a 14-year-old boy who died in his eastside house while police say he was playing with a gun.

Worthy said many of the cases involve adults who made no effort to hide their firearms from the children in their care.

"I'm not talking about (leaving firearms) in a place like a locked closet," Worthy said. "I'm talking about in a crib, a bottom dresser drawer that remains open, a coffee table, under the bed under a pillow.

"One of the most egregious places was on top of a Gameboy console where the children play," Worthy said.

Prosecutors have been charging adults who allow kids access to guns with crimes ranging from careless, reckless, or negligent use of a firearm causing injury or death, a two-year misdemeanor, to second-degree child abuse, to involuntary manslaughter, both felonies, Worthy said.

Worthy added she's "been beating the drum for five years" advocating for what she called "child safety access laws" which would impose automatic penalties on adults whose kids get hold of firearms, with sentences escalating depending on the harm done.

"The penalty would be raised if someone was injured, and if someone was shot, it would be a higher felony — and if someone's killed, an even higher felony," Worthy said. "Unfortunately, I'm told these ... laws don't have a chance in Hades of passing in Michigan ... for various reasons."

White and Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington, whose respective departments for years have made free gun locks available to the public, offered to bring the devices to residents' homes.

"We’ll drop it off at your doorstep," White said. "We'll have a Neighborhood Police Officer come out, show you how to use it ... no questions asked.

"We can’t arrest our way out of this," White said. "It's a very complicated problem, with layers. We can honor your Second Amendment right to have a gun ... but if you're not responsible enough to secure your guns, maybe you shouldn't have one."

Washington, who is a concealed pistol license instructor, said he stresses to his students the importance of safe firearm storage. 

"When children find guns and use them against themselves or others, it's totally our fault," Washington said. "We have to own it."

Quincy Smith, who works with CeaseFire Detroit, a federally funded initiative that seeks to reduce gang activity and other violence, said his group recently received a batch of biometric gun safes to distribute.

"We have gun locks in our office, but folks just don't take advantage of them," Smith said, adding that his group recently passed out the gun safes at the Martin Luther King apartments on Chene.

Bishop Daryl Harris of Total Life Ministries in Detroit, CeaseFire's Faith-Based Coordinator, added: "We've heard complaints about gun locks being complicated, but if you can afford to get a gun, go out and purchase a (biometric) gun box. If you need access speedily, you can use your thumbprint to open it."

White said all solutions need to be explored.

"Otherwise, we'll be here again," he said.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN