Chicago - A five-year-old boy playing with a rifle given to him as a gift accidentally shot dead his younger sister, officials said on Wednesday, thrusting the issue of US gun violence back into the spotlight.
The boy's two-year-old sister was pronounced dead after being rushed to a hospital following the shooting on Tuesday in rural Kentucky, police said.
Cumberland County Coroner Gary White identified the girl as Caroline Starks and said the children's mother was cleaning the house at the time and had stepped outside onto the porch.
"She said no more than three minutes had went by and she actually heard the rifle go off. She ran back in and found the little girl," White said.
The .22 calibre rifle had been given to the boy last year and was kept in the corner of a room. The parents didn't realise a shell had been left in it.
"It's a Crickett," White told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "It's a little rifle for a kid. ...The little boy's used to shooting the little gun."
Tougher gun laws
An autopsy was set to be conducted but White said he expects the shooting will be ruled accidental.
"Just one of those crazy accidents," White said.
It was the second fatal shooting involving minors in America this week.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that a five-year-old girl in a remote Alaska community had been shot and killed by her eight-year-old brother on Monday. The circumstances of the shooting were not immediately clear.
The United States has been embroiled in a heated debate over gun control and gun culture in the wake of a horrific December shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26 young children and educators.
President Barack Obama has pushed for tougher federal gun laws to require universal background checks on gun buyers and called for a ban on assault weapons like the one used in Newtown.
‘My First Rifle’
But last month, his background check proposal - condemned by the powerful National Rifle Association as an infringement on Americans' constitutional right "to keep and bear arms" - failed to muster the necessary 60 votes needed to clear the US Senate.
There were 851 deaths caused by accidental discharges of firearms in the United States in 2011, according to the latest data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
A further 14 675 people were injured by accidental discharges of firearms in 2011, of whom 7 991 were under the age of 18 and 3 569 were under the age of 13.
No efforts have been made to prevent children from using firearms for hunting and sporting purposes, a treasured tradition for many American families.
The Crickett is just one of many child-sized rifles on the market and is sold with the tag line 'My First Rifle.'
It comes in a number of child-friendly barrel designs and colours, including hot pink for little girls. A host of accessories are also available, like story books and a gun-toting beanie baby of the rifle's mascot, a cartoonish cricket.