Blair's death should spur tougher gun law
Aaron Sullivan and a few friends reportedly were engaged in a dangerous activity on July 4 — firing a handgun for fun in a Kansas City neighborhood.
It’s an all-too-common form of recreation. But it’s not a felony offense. The only instance in which the state can bring serious charges against a recreational shooter is if someone gets hurt by a stray bullet.
That’s exactly what happened on the Fourth of July. Blair Shanahan Lane, 11, was dancing around the lawn of her uncle’s house when she collapsed. She’d been shot in the back of the head. She never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead the next day.
Kansas City police should be commended for doggedly pursuing a case with low odds of getting solved. The city has seen other people killed by stray bullets, and the culprit is almost never found.
But in Blair’s case, detectives canvassing a nearby apartment complex found shell casings. Interviews led them to Sullivan, 50, who lives at the complex and works part-time as the pool monitor. Sullivan has acknowledged firing his gun that night, along with friends. The gun matched the bullet that struck Blair.
As the owner of the gun, Sullivan is charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. But Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is right to push for a state law that would make the act of needlessly firing a gun a felony.
State Rep. Mike Talboy, a Kansas City Democrat, said he’ll back a law that would make it a felony to discharge a firearm within city limits, with certain exemptions.
Talboy said he would model a bill after an Arizona statute known as “Shannon’s Law,” named for a 14-year-old girl killed in her back yard by a stray bullet. The law provides for a number of exemptions, such as self-defense, firing ranges, and fishing and hunting areas. It doesn’t apply unless an occupied structure is within a mile’s radius.
Properly drafted, and bolstered by an effective public awareness campaign, such a law would provide a useful tool for police in Missouri’s urban areas. An awareness campaign is a good idea regardless of whether a law gets passed.
People shouldn’t have to be told that firing a gun for fun is a bad idea. But apparently, some do. It’s tragic that the death of an innocent girl was required for some people to get the message.