I believe that all gun owners are responsible for their weapons. If an accident occurs, it’s the owner’s responsibility—no matter how tragic the outcome or otherwise virtuous the owner. I understand that the Placer County Deputy Sheriff Ken Skogan and his wife are in hell after their three-year-old daughter Kalli shot and killed herself with one of her father’s handguns. I do not mean to add to their misery. But TTAG is dedicated to telling the truth about guns, and their owners. Details of the Skogan case are now emerging. They raise important questions. In the interests of honesty, education and debate, we’ll examine some of them here. The auburnjournal.com reports . . .
According to Sgt. Darin DeFreece of the Roseville Police Department], shortly before 5:50 p.m. on April 20, Skogen was in the garage of his home in the 300 block of Sawtell Road, cleaning a gun.
“Skogen finished cleaning the handgun and started to put it away,” DeFreece said. “As he was finishing it up, he turned his back away from the gun safe.”
That is when investigators believe Kalli entered the garage without her father knowing it.
“Skogen thought she was playing someplace else and didn’t realize she was near the open gun safe,” DeFreece said.
With her father’s back turned away, DeFreece said Kalli reached inside the gun safe and picked up a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
“It was a personal sidearm, not his service-issue weapon,” DeFreece said.
DeFreece said it would not be difficult for a young child to pick up a pistol and accidentally shoot herself.
“When the gun went off, Skogen turned around and saw what had happened,” DeFreece said. “He called 911 and everyone responded as fast as they could.”
Our sources tell us that a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 is the most likely the weapon involved in this tragedy. [Download the weapon’s Safety & Instruction Manual here] No matter what weapon delivered the fatal bullet, DeFreece’s assertion that “it would not be difficult” for Kalli to shoot herself is entirely misleading. As in most airplane accidents, Skogan must have made a series of mistakes for the incident to occur.
For example, why didn’t Skogan hear his daughter? We have no information about the layout of Skogan’s garage. But three-year-olds are not normally known for their stealth. And garages tend to amplify sounds.
I’m not saying Kalli wasn’t quiet. Or that she couldn’t have snuck into the space. But whenever gun owners with children have their weapons out, their child-sensing safety radar is normally switched on. As it should be. Were the other distractions at the time? Music? TV?
Why was there a gun safe in Skogan’s garage? Outbuildings are one of the worst possible places to store a gun. The security sucks and the temperature and humidity changes do firearms and ammunition no favors. Gun safety is mostly between the ears, but geography matters. Perhaps Skogan wanted to keep his guns away from Kalli.
If safety was his prime concern, why was there a loaded handgun in the Skogan’s safe? Storing a gun and ammunition in separate places is standard safety procedure. Says so right in the standard issue manufacturer’s literature (e.g., Smith & Wesson).
When this accident occurred, the authorities didn’t know if the gun used was service-issue. We now know it wasn’t. Did Skogan leave his service gun at work? If he didn’t, why would he need another gun ready to rock and roll in his safe? If his service piece was unavailable, there was no “good” reason to store a loaded firearm, even if he didn’t know any better. Which he did. Or should have, as a gun owner. And a police officer.
Loaded. Bad. Bullet in the chamber. Worse.
Leaving your gun’s chamber empty is the second to last line of defense against accidental discharge (before the mechanical safety). A three-year-old is not likely to be able to know how—or be able to—pull back the slide of a .40 semi-automatic. Another fact of which Skogan was no doubt aware.
Note: the M&P can be purchased with or without an external safety. We don’t know how Skogan’s gun was configured—or if it was a Smith & Wesson weapon. But a gun owner with children should give serious consideration to restricting his purchases to guns with an external safety and then, of course, use it. If the gun doesn’t have a safety, basic precautions (storing it unloaded, ammo elsewhere) as even more important.
In short, I’ve not read anything that suggest that Kalli Skogan’s death was anything other than a deeply regrettable yet preventable accident. One from which we can all learn.