‘Please, Safety First!’ Grieving Father’s Public Plea After 3-Year-Old Son Fatally Shoots Self

An adult believed having a gun would keep him, his family and those he cares about, safer. For a curious 3-year-old, that did not turn out to be the case. Photo of Damon Holbrook  @ Toledo Blade

An adult believed having a gun would keep him, his family and those he cares about, safer. For a curious 3-year-old, that did not turn out to be the case. Photo of Damon Holbrook @ Toledo Blade

Toddlers, by their very nature, are curious and exploratory. Small enough to crawl into compact spaces, often without notice, they have a way of “getting into things,” as most parents can attest, which is why dangerous items are typically kept well out of their reach. But when 3 1/2-year-old Damon Holbrook, pictured above, crawled into the closet of his Dundee, Michigan home this past Sunday, he found a loaded 40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun left in an unsecured plastic case on the floor; the curious little boy did what toddlers do: he picked it up to look at it… and accidentally shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at an Ann Arbor hospital shortly after.

This latest tragedy joins a long list of gun deaths, 7,356 or more just since Newtown, but its particulars exemplify an argument gun control advocates say is paramount to the discussion: how gun owners do or do not secure their firearms. In this case, Joshua Michael Greenhill, 30, who confirmed he typically carries a gun, returned home from his job at the Dundee Quality Inn, went into the bedroom of the house he shares with his wife and her 7-year-old son; Brian Holbrook, Damon’s father, and Holbrook’s two other sons, 10- and 6-years-old. Greenhill took his gun, put it in an easily accessible plastic case, threw it on the floor of the closet and left the room. It was only five minutes later that a shot rang through the house and Damon Holbrook was dead. From the Toledo Blade:

The bullet went through a ceiling and lodged in the floor of the house’s upper level, indicating the child was bent over when the gun fired, [Dundee Police] Chief Uhl said. He estimated it takes about five pounds of pressure to pull the trigger. [… ]

Mr. Greenhill, 30, was charged with careless discharge of a firearm causing injury or death, which carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison or $2,000. He asked Judge Terrence Bronson of Monroe County 1st District Court for a court-appointed attorney and answered “yes” when the judge asked if he was pleading not guilty.

The defendant, who police said has no criminal history and has a concealed-pistol license, was released from jail on his own recognizance. As a condition of his release, he must surrender his pistol license identification card, not possess a firearm, and refrain from using or possessing alcohol or controlled substances.

Chief Uhl said an investigation continues and authorities “are working on a more serious charge,” which could come within a week.

For many aware of this story, it’s difficult to understand how any responsible gun owner could be so cavalier about securing a loaded firearm in a house with four young children, but there are far too many firearm owners who remain negligent in securing their weapons, which too often leads to tragedy. From GunFAQ:

But it’s also “predictable,” says Bryan Miller, formerly of the gun-violence prevention organization Ceasefire NJ. “So many people are negligent about storing guns when there are children around. So many parents say, ‘Oh I hide the gun. Jimmy doesn’t know where it is.’”

But the facts seem to say otherwise. As do the headlines.

Twenty-seven of America’s 50 states have laws to ensure that children cannot get access to firearms. These laws place the responsibility for safe gun storage — and legal liability for the consequences — on gun owners.

But that hasn’t stopped the carnage.

The reason for that is twofold. First, there are far too many conditions attached to these laws, making them unnecessarily complex and difficult to enforce.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, prosecutors are loath to charge and prosecute negligent parents. The common refrain being that the family has “suffered enough.”

Gun owner Joshua Michael Greenhill. Photo by Charles V. Tines  @ DetroitNews

Gun owner Joshua Michael Greenhill. Photo by Charles V. Tines @ DetroitNews

Which is why some have remarked that the swift arrest and charging of Greenhill, who, as a “roommate” and family friend of the victim must certainly be experiencing his own “suffering” (he’s said to be “distraught”), indicates how seriously the Dundee police are taking the matter. Gun control advocates who believe the securing of firearms must be enforced with greater seriousness, welcome that attitude, while local neighbors commented on the “heartbreaking” reminder of what one small mistake can lead to.

As for the family, father Brian Holbrook, who is going through a divorce from the victim’s mother, Jessica (who doesn’t live in the home and was not present at the house at the time of the shooting), is grief-stricken. A Facebook post on Monday expressed not only his sorrow, but his sense of urgency that gun owners must take more responsibility for securing their weapons:

“Yesterday I lost my 3yrd son to a gun accident. We r all hoping to wake up from this nightmare. Though we know that it is now a living nightmare. My baby boy is gone & I will never get to hold him again. I will miss him terribly,” Brian Holbrook wrote in a post Monday morning on the social media site.

Holbrook said in his Facebook post that his son died because the gun wasn’t secured.

“I have nothing wrong with guns it’s with this country was built on. I will still support the Second Amendment,” he wrote. “All I ask is that everyone please, please safety first lock it up and put it out of reach of anyone that has no business being around a gun especially kids.

He concluded: “Gun safety people! My boy would still b here if it was put away like it should have been. Thank you for all the prayers & well wishs.” [Sic on all items; Source]

And so we mourn the senseless, unnecessary death of another child; another bright, energetic young life lost to the lack of vigilance and responsibility of an adult who believed having a gun would keep him, his family, and those he cares about, safer. For a curious three-year-old named Damon Holbrook, that did not turn out to be the case.