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Crime & Courts

Toddler’s death spotlights gun safety courses

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Published:   |   Updated: May 8, 2013 at 08:05 PM
TAMPA -

The accidental shooting death of a 3-year-old in Tampa on Tuesday night has contributed to the ongoing debate over gun control and shed light on what the state requires to issue a concealed firearm permit.

Killed was Jadarrius Speights, a toddler who found a loaded 9 mm handgun in his uncle’s backpack around 7 p.m. Tuesday and pulled the trigger.

His uncle, Jerry D. Walker, 29, held a concealed firearm permit, which requires he take a safety class that might or might not have addressed safe storage of a firearm. He shared a room with Jadarrius in the north Tampa apartment complex.

A few hours after the shooting, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested Walker, 13144 N. 22nd St., Apt. 109, on a third-degree felony charge of culpable negligence, exposing a child to a firearm. He was released from the Hillsborough County jail Wednesday morning after posting $2,000 bail, records show.

“One of the determining factors (in charging Walker with culpable negligence) was that he has a concealed weapons permit and to get that he would have had to have taken a gun safety course,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter. “And knowing that he was sharing a room with a 3-year-old child, he left his back pack there with gun unsecured.”

She said deputies found no trigger locks or gun safes in the home. Walker’s gun was the only firearm found in the apartment, she said.

Walker and the boy’s parents, Jasmine Bell, 21, and Trentin Speights, 22, could not be reached for comment. Relatives and neighbors closed ranks, many refusing to speak with reporters about the incident or the family.

“You all need to leave those people alone,” said a neighbor who declined to give his name. “You need to get out of here. You’re making a lot of people mad.”

Deputies were called to the Avesta USF Gardens apartment complex shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday after receiving several 911 calls. They found the mortally wounded child, who was rushed to Florida Hospital on Fletcher Avenue, where he was pronounced dead.

The gun safety instruction given in courses required for the permit vary widely, and some fall short in teaching safe storage of firearms, said one local instructor.

That Walker held a concealed firearms permit doesn’t mean the safety course he took addressed safe storage of a gun in the home at all, said Joe Krawtschenko, chief instructor with Aegis Tactical, a firearms safety and training facility in Bradenton.

The state requires only a certificate of completion from any firearm safety or training course or class available to the general public, conducted by a state-certified instructor or by an instructor certified with the National Rifle Association.

Some courses are less than an hour long and only involve an instructor watching an applicant load a gun and pull the trigger, Krawtschenko said.

“There are still companies going around, offering the class in your home, charging $15 to $20,” he said. “It could take only 15 minutes.”

Krawtschenko said safely securing firearms in the home – especially if there are children present – is “basic firearms safety.”

Hearing stories about accidental shootings like the one in Tampa on Tuesday makes the gun-rights advocate in Krawtschenko cringe.

“That to me, if it was left in a backpack, that’s a blatant violation of basic safety rules,” he said. “If you are a gun owner, be safe gun owner. If you have a 3-year-old running around the house, they are going to get into everything.”

Jadarrius’ death came on the same day the U.S. Justice Department issued a report saying gun violence had dropped dramatically nationwide over the past two decades. Still, the report said, 70 percent of homicides are committed with firearms.

The report, by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, said firearms-related homicides declined 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, while nonfatal firearms crimes fell 69 percent during that period.

Those numbers are probably true, said Art Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, but it doesn’t diminish the tragedy that occurred Tuesday night in the North Tampa apartment building.

“It just keeps happening,” he said.

Florida statutes now require a loaded firearm in a home to be stored in a locked box or secured with a trigger lock if the owner knows that a child has access to the firearm.

“We’ve got a million concealed weapons permits, tiny little guns stuffed in backpacks and purses and children find them and we continue to have this,” Hayhoe said. “It’s not going to stop. It’s going to get worse.”


kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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