When Larry Smith's father gave him a .38 revolver in late spring of 1989, he took it apart and stored it in his closet. A few weeks later, when he thought he saw someone trying to enter his fenced yard, he grabbed the gun before he went outside. He didn't return it to the closet, but stashed it in the bottom of his top dresser drawer. The next morning, his 10-year-old son Sean went looking for the Nintendo games his mother had hidden and found the revolver instead. He picked it up, waved it around, pointed it at a window, and just as his frightened 8-year-old sister Erin ran out of the room, pulled the trigger. The bullet entered her heart. He held her, trying to staunch the blood, and watched her eyes roll back. ''Please don't die. Please, God. Please, don't be dead," Sean said in a 911 call, recounts the New York Times. By the time paramedics arrived, she was.
Thirty years later, the Trace reports, Sean is finally pulling his life together. But from the moment he held his dead sister, through his desperate 911 call being played over and over as a public service announcement, through drug use and then abuse, the birth of a son, relapse, and a failed marriage, Sean says he has struggled with guilt. The shooting, by the way, was the first in a bloody week in Florida history that saw four more children accidentally shot across the state, with all but one of them dying. The state legislature, already adjourned for the year, went into special session just to pass a law making it illegal to leave a gun unsecured. (No charges were brought against Larry or Sean.) Now 28 states have similar laws on the books, and Florida, whose law came first and is among the most restrictive, has seen a 51% drop in unintentional shooting deaths of children. Sean, meanwhile, says he's finally forgiven himself. Read the full piece here. (Read more guns stories.)