‘Safely Store Your Firearms’: How To Keep Young Children From Finding Your Gun

More than 400 guns and rifles were handed over in exchange for $100 gift cards during a 2018 gun buy-back. Chicago Police Department via AP
More than 400 guns and rifles were handed over in exchange for $100 gift cards during a 2018 gun buy-back. Chicago Police Department via AP

‘Safely Store Your Firearms’: How To Keep Young Children From Finding Your Gun

Updated at 2:59 p.m.

Chicago police are urging gun safety after accidental shootings left three children injured over the weekend.

All three were wounded by gunshots accidentally fired by other children, police said.

The guns were legal and had been locked away, but children found the keys and took them without their parents’ knowledge, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Still, he said, the accidental shootings are a reminder of the importance of safeguarding firearms in the home and talking with children about gun safety.

“In a city like Chicago, where we unfortunately see very high levels of gun violence, we’re saddened by cases like this. Right? Because we hope that they could be prevented through education, outreach, and of course, securing weapons,” Guglielmi said.

The first shooting happened in the Lawndale neighborhood about 8 p.m. Friday when a 7-year-old girl playing with a gun shot her 11-year-old brother in the neck, police said. The boy was initially hospitalized in serious condition.

Guglielmi said the gun had been kept inside a drawer in a locked room, but the girl found the key.

Hours later, a Dolton boy shot an 8-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl in the Bronzeville neighborhood, police said. Both children were hospitalized in fair condition.

Police said the boy found the gun in a lock box in his home and, “unbeknownst to his parents,” took it to his cousin’s house in the city during a play date.

Illinois law requires gun owners to ensure their firearms are secured and kept out of the hands of children.

No charges were filed in the Bronzeville shooting.

However, Lucreshia Curtis, the mother of the 7-year-old girl and 11-year-old boy in Lawndale, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment. Police said an investigation revealed she left the key to the locked room on a windowsill that was easily accessible to her children. Curtis, 39, is due in court on Thursday.

Police: Another woman charged for an unsecured gun

Police also made arrests in a Saturday afternoon shooting where a 15-year-old boy shot a 14-year-old girl in the cheek in the Little Village neighborhood.

The boy was charged in juvenile court with a felony count of reckless discharge of a firearm and a misdemeanor for illegal possession of a firearm.

Police said the gun came from the home of 36-year-old Lynn Rocha, who was charged with two counts of endangering a child and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, all misdemeanors. Rocha lived on the block where the shooting happened.

Kellie Bartoli, a police spokeswoman, said Rocha told detectives that she was aware that she possessed a loaded firearm that was easily accessible to a child.

Bartoli said that detectives recommended Rocha be charged with a felony count of unlawful possession of a firearm, but prosecutors rejected that more severe charge. A spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Police would not elaborate on Rocha’s relationship to either of the teens. Rocha could not be reached for comment.

“Safely store your firearms”

Guglielmi said the shootings are lessons for all parents, and the department plans to do “more outreach … in the coming weeks just to raise awareness on the issue.”

The first [lesson] is secure weapons,” Guglielmi said. “And then the second part is you really have to have open conversations with your entire family about gun safety and the dangers of guns and what they can do to people.”

Michael Slevnik is an instructor at Firearms Training Chicago. He said he spends an “extensive” amount of time in his classes going over safe storage of guns in the home.

He said it’s up to the parents to know the best tactic to take with their children, whether that is talking about guns and their uses or trying to make sure children don’t know about them until they are old enough to be taught gun safety.

Either way, Slevnik said, parents need to make sure they don’t even give children “a chance to have access to a firearm.”

“I can’t express enough how important it is to safely store your firearms, always,” Slevnik said. “Children are going to see what you’re doing and … even if you think they don’t know where your guns are at, they do. They know where they’re at. They know where, you know, if you have a key, it shouldn’t be anywhere accessible to anybody. It should be with you.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.