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Milwaukee Leaders Give Away Free Gun Locks, After Accidental Shooting Death

Marti Mikkelson
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett rolls out free gun lock program at City Hall

The City of Milwaukee is giving away free gun locks in response to the accidental shooting death of a nine-year-old girl. Police say Miyanna Jelks was fatally shot by her nine-year-old brother in an apparent accident on the city’s north side.

Her parents have been arrested on charges of operating a drug house, child neglect and leaving a gun within reach of a child. City leaders and community activists shared ideas Monday that they hope prevent similar tragedies.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spoke at a news conference at City Hall – standing beside a display of gun locks spread out on a table. He called the fatal shooting of a nine-year-old girl, a horrific accident that could have been prevented.

“To me as a parent, this is the worst nightmare that one could experience. Losing a child in any situation is a complete nightmare,” he said.

Barrett called it heartbreaking that the girl was shot by her own brother. He said adults in Milwaukee have to do everything they can to make sure guns are not accessible to children, and said free gun locks will be available this week at six of the police districts, as well as city-operated health centers throughout Milwaukee.

The city also is working with the gun violence prevention group WestCare to distribute another batch of gun locks.

Reggie Moore of the Office of Violence Prevention said it’s every adult’s responsibility to keep their children safe.

“So far this year 118 children under the age of 12 throughout the country have been injured or killed as a result of firearms. It is imperative on all of us as a community, as parents, as family members to ensure that if we have firearms that they are secure,” Moore said.

He said the city gave away 600 gun locks last year, and intends to give away at least that many this year.

Oak Creek’s Master Lock company has donated many of the devices. Moore said people need to be diligent in making sure that firearms are stored away from kids.

Moore said community outreach is important too. “That there’s also education in the home about how dangerous a firearm is, what they should do if they see one, if they go to school and a friend has one in a backpack for example, that you should tell an adult immediately and that you should never pick up one, those types of messages are important."

Across the country, Moore explained, parents who hunt and own hunting rifles often teach their children about firearm safety. He said it’s a strategy that works and believes it can be applied to people who own guns for protection.

Geri Bonavia of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort also weighed in on ways to prevent gun injuries to kids. She said gun locks help, and so does making sure people are storing guns safely, but parents can take things further.

“I think the most important thing with regard to preventing these types of horrible tragedies is really evaluating, with great deal of understanding about the risks, is evaluating whether or not it makes sense to have a gun in our homes in the first place,” Bonavia said.

Mayor Tom Barrett said today the focus is on gun locks, but in coming weeks the city will roll out what he called an aggressive public awareness campaign to promote firearm safety.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.