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Two Pinellas shootings show that guns, children never mix

A man who isn't legally allowed to own a firearm leveled a shotgun at a 20-month-old baby girl and pulled the trigger.

Another man was showing off his handguns to some children when he placed a loaded revolver within reach of a 6-year-old boy.

Both incidents took place in Pinellas County on Thursday. Both came to the same terrible end: A child was shot.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Friday that both victims are expected to recover.

The legal ramifications, though, are just beginning: a 22-year-old man was arrested in the toddler shooting. The other case, where an 8-year-old boy was shot in the leg by his brother, will be looked at by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

"While we haven't made an arrest in the case," said sheriff's spokesman Cecilia Barreda, "it is being reviewed by the State Attorney's Office to determine if any charges will be filed."

Here's what happened in that incident: deputies say Zachary White, 30, was watching three brothers: an 8-year-old boy and 6-year-old twins. It was about 7:45 p.m. Thursday when deputies say White showed the boys a .38-caliber revolver and a .45-caliber semiautomatic he kept in his gun safe at 2171 Timber Lane in Clearwater.

White unloaded the revolver and let the boys handle it. Then he took it, reloaded it and placed it on top of a dresser. Then he showed the empty .45 to the boys.

But one of the twins grabbed the loaded revolver and pulled the trigger, deputies said, shooting his 8-year-old brother in the leg. The child was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa for treatment of injuries that weren't life-threatening.

Hours earlier, deputies said, Justin Gallagher was watching a 20-month-old girl in Largo when he unloaded a shotgun. Then Gallagher, thinking the shotgun was empty, pointed it at the toddler and pulled the trigger "in jest," deputies said.

But it was still loaded. The blast tore away much of the girl's right ear, a sheriff's report said, and left her with pellet wounds on her neck and shoulder. She was taken to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Gallagher was arrested on charges of aggravated child abuse with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was being held without bail Friday in the Pinellas County jail. None of the children in either incident was identified by deputies.

St. Petersburg police Sgt. Tim Brockman, the department's training expert, said the best way to prevent such tragic accidents is to keep guns completely away from children.

Firearms should always be locked in a safe, he said. If there's no way to lock the weapon away, Brockman said, then the owner should store the guns and ammunition separately.

What about a weapon that's kept out for self-defense? Some small gun safes are designed to be quickly opened for just that purpose. But trigger locks are a controversial option. They can be tampered with, may not fit properly and can give a false sense of security. In the end, Brockman said, anyone handling a gun can't afford to let their guard down around children.

"People always think it's never going to happen to me," he said, "and then it does."

Times staff writers Rita Farlow and Luis Perez contributed to this report.

Two Pinellas shootings show that guns, children never mix 10/30/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 30, 2010 1:48am]
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