Tragedy is a word that's probably overused in our society but certainly it applies to the death of two-year-old Caroline Sparks.
As millions of people know now, she was shot in the chest by her five-year-old brother Tuesday with a child's rifle he'd been given as a gift last year. Caroline's life is over, her brother's and parents' lives are forever changed. In every way, it's tragic.
The coroner described Caroline's death as "just one of those crazy accidents." It's hard to agree on that point — not the legal definition of an accident but of a common sense reading.
According to news accounts, the children's mother was at home but had stepped out to empty a bucket, the parents didn't realize the rifle, which was in a corner, was loaded.
Every year there are stories about children who kill others or themselves because a loaded gun has been left where they can get it.
What sets this story apart is that this rifle was made for a child, to appeal to a child, in fact even named to engage a child's attention and fancy. Caroline was shot with a Crickett, one of the children's lines made by Keystone Sporting Arms, which also uses the tradenames Davey Crickett and Chipmunk for its rifles. These fancifully-named lines include weapons with stocks in various patterns and colors: camoflauge, blue, purple and pink in addition to more traditional wood tones. One line features a jaunty cartoon character very like Jimminy Crickett with a rifle brandished in both hands, the other a chipmunk standing on its hind legs with a rifle grasped by both forelegs.
Keystone explains on its website that since its founding in 1996 it has "moved to the forefront in becoming the leading rifle supplier in the youth market." Production has grown from about 4,000 a year to 60,000 in 2008. They are sold by such well-known retailers as Walmart and Cabelas.
Mother Jones yesterday posted photographs included in the "Kid's Corner" section of Keystone's website. They show young girls with their bright pink rifles, babies posed with rifles in their laps, kids posing triumphantly with game they've presumably killed with their rifles. Those images weren't available on the Keystone site later in the day yesterday.
A loaded gun should never be left where a five-year-old can gain access to it, we can all agree on that. Caroline's brother and parents will live the rest of their lives regretting that was the situation in their home on Tuesday.
But that gun wasn't in that home by accident. Caroline's older brother had a lethal weapon in his hands because that rifle, and tens of thousands like it, are designed, made and marketed to appeal to the "youth market" with images much like many that would likely be placed at the grave of a two-year-old girl.