Editorials

As long as teens have easy access to guns, we can expect more tragedies

Handguns belong in a shooting range, or in the hands of a responsible adult, not in the hands of a teenager on a Gulfport street.
Handguns belong in a shooting range, or in the hands of a responsible adult, not in the hands of a teenager on a Gulfport street. AP File

Zaylan Sparkman should be looking forward to school. Looking forward to making friends at recess, getting to know his new teacher, discovering a wondrous world with the eyes of a 6-year-old.

But Zaylan Sparkman is dead, after being shot in the stomach Friday. His brother, Albert Deonata Craft III, 16, was arrested and faces a manslaughter charge.

Those facts should give everyone pause. Everyone should be asking, how could a 16-year-old illegally obtain a handgun? Who among us believes it’s OK for a 16-year-old to have a handgun?

Not Gulfport Chief of Police Leonard Papania. And Mississippi law, while fairly permissive when it comes to guns, backs him up.

It is illegal for someone under the age of 18 to have a handgun except in some very specific circumstances, such as at a target range. None of them apply to a residential neighborhood of modest homes with tricycles and lawn furniture in the yards. Sabine Street in Gulfport is just such a street. That’s where Zaylan Sparkman died.

“There is no legitimate reason for a young person to go out and acquire a handgun,” he said. “I realize we have young people who go hunting and practice in gun sports, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”

And we agree with Papania — this problem is bigger than the Police Department. Our police officers can’t get these guns off our streets by themselves. It is the responsibility of everyone who wants to live in a safe neighborhood.

Police say Craft pointed the gun at Zaylan and pulled the trigger — twice. Craft told them he didn’t mean to shoot his little brother. So now we know Zaylan would be alive today if an irresponsible teen had not been able to get his hands on a handgun. We don’t know why he chose to arm himself. We just know he did.

The person or people responsible for giving or selling him that gun must be found and held responsible.

No one should sit back and do nothing if they know someone is illegally trafficking in firearms in their neighborhoods. They should not be afraid to help the police get weapons out of the hands of teenagers.

“People need to get involved,” Papania said. “Just peruse social media. It’s there. Adults need to take responsibility.”

There is nothing noble in keeping information about illegal weapons from the proper authorities.

We again agree with Papania.

Adults have to know who those gun-toting children are.

To allow that to continue virtually assures one of two outcomes: The children will grow up too fast or they won’t grow up at all.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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