Fatal shooting with gun for 'kids' renews marketing debate

The shooting death of a 2-year -old by a 5-year-old in Kentucky is prompting renewed debate over the marketing of firearms for children.

The accidental fatal shooting of a 2-year-old Kentucky girl by her 5-year-old brother with "a little rifle for a kid" has cast renewed attention on the marketing of firearms to children.

Caroline Sparks was shot in the chest on Tuesday afternoon by her brother while he was playing with a .22-caliber Crickett rifle at the family's home in rural Cumberland County.

The weapon is marketed as "My First Rifle" by Keystone Sporting Arms, a firearms business based in Milton, Pa. The Crickett rifles are available with various barrel and stock designs and come in several colors, including bright pink to appeal to girls.

The section of the company's website devoted to Crickett rifles was inaccessible for much of Thursday. The site sports a "Kids Corner" featuring a series of pictures of smiling youngsters toting and shooting small rifles. It also touts laudatory testimonials from parents and children. A typical one reads:

"My wife told me to do something with my daughter after gymnastics today, she recommended going for hot chocolate or a donut. I thought, that's not special, plus once you've consumed the item where does that leave you. Instead we bought a pink Crickett from my six year old daughter and wanted to say thanks for making quality affordable firearms for new shooters."

Keystone declined comment on its marketing and on the firearm used in the Kentucky shooting, described by the county coroner as "a little rifle for a kid."

The company referred inquiries to its attorney, John Renzulli, who told MSN News: "The privacy of the family needs to be respected at this time. Until there is a complete investigation Keystone will refrain from making a comment."

Renzulli added: "At some point the facts will emerge as to what really occurred here."

LEARNING TO FIRE

Federal law prohibits firearms dealers from selling shotguns or rifles to anyone under 18 but there's no minimum age for possession, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Keystone's website says the Crickett rifle is "ideally sized" for children 4 to 10 years old. The company stresses the importance of learning to safely handle firearms at an early age:

"The goal of KSA is to instill gun safety in the minds of youth shooters and encourage them to gain the knowledge and respect that hunting and shooting activities require and deserve."

Gun safety and firearm restrictions have been in the spotlight in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Among a host of gun-control proposals introduced this year by Connecticut lawmakers is a bill that would establish a task force to study the marketing of firearms to children.

Psychologist and youth marketing consultant James McNeal, author of the 1999 book "The Kids Market: Myths and Realities," decried the targeted advertising.

"Ever since I can remember, harmful products, including weapons, have been marketed to children -— in more ways than I can count," McNeal told MSN News via email. "And ever since I can remember there have been laws and organizations that could prevent it, and didn't, and don't."

Guns made for children: Screen grab of the Crickett.com website.

PREVENTING ACCESS

Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry, told The New York Times that parents, not the government, should be the ones to ultimately decide if and when to introduce their children to shooting, and what sort of firearms to use.

"It’s a very significant decision," he told the Times, "and it involves the personal responsibility of the parent and personal responsibility of the child.”

Firearms expert T.J. Johnston said the problem isn't marketing of firearms, but access.

"Every gun owner has the major responsibility to make sure that any unauthorized person should not have access to a firearm," he told MSN News.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the majority of states, including Kentucky, have laws designed to prevent children from accessing firearms.

Johnston endorses the National Rifle Association's "Eddie Eagle" gun-safety program, which teaches children in pre-K through third grade four steps to take if they find a gun: Stop, don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult.

The NRA, a longtime donor to youth shooting programs, says firearms education and training has substantially reduced the number of firearms accidents. "Today, the odds are more than a million to one, against a child in the U.S. dying in a firearm accident," the group says on its website.

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