A South African girl, 7 shot her friend dead with her grandfather’s revolver while the two were playing. The friend, 6, died at the scene of the incident, a farm outside the small town of Bela-Bela. The revolver was usually stored safely, but the shooter’s grandfather had taken it out during a recent attempted robbery and neglected to put it back. South African police have opened a murder investigation, but are waiting on word from prosecutors, because the shooter is only 7 years old. The grandfather was charged with failure to safeguard a firearm.
Police spokesperson Ronel Otto described the incident as one that resulted in play, and did not indicate any malice between the two girls:
"They were playing together and in the process she got hold of the revolver, which hit the deceased in the face," said Otto. She also said that “there was a great sense of shock” among local residents.
South Africa has just under 6 million guns in circulation, according to statistics compiled by the BBC (South Africa has a population of just over 50 million). Though South Africa has strict gun laws, 37% of those weapons are unregistered. There are 17 homicides per 100,000 people in South Africa, a rate more than five times that of the United States.
The girl who shot her friend is staying with her parents in Johannesburg. While it seems clear that she intended to pull the trigger, we also have to assume, because she is 7 years old, that she didn’t understand the full consequences of her actions. She may not have understood any of them. The sad truth is that tragedies like this will happen periodically where guns are present. Sometimes gun deaths happen because of malice, but they also happen because of carelessness.