The gun was small and light, the training wheels of firearms. The .22-caliber, single-shot Crickett rifle turned deadly on Tuesday, officials in Kentucky said, when a 5-year-old Cumberland County boy shot and killed his 2-year-old sister in what the coroner described to a local paper as "just one of those crazy accidents."
The toddler was shot when the boy was playing with the rifle, as Kentucky state police said in a statement. The gun, a type of rifle made specifically for kids, had been given to the boy as a gift last year and kept in a corner, and the family did not realize a shell was in the chamber, Cumberland County Coroner Gary White told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The Crickett is one of two lines of .22-caliber rifles for kids manufactured by the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Sporting Arms. The company acquired the maker of the similar Chipmunk rifle in 2007, a purchase that positioned the company as "the leading rifle supplier in the youth market," according to the company's website.
On the site's "Kids Corner," young target shooters and hunters pose with their guns, and videos on the company's YouTube channel promote the gun as fun for the whole family.
Keystone Sporting Arms, which says on its website that it made 60,000 rifles in 2008, did not return requests for comment from NBC News.
Firearms made for minors represent a new market for gun makers, said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center. As the gun market has been saturated, Sugarmann said, gun makers have followed a "path trailblazed by a wide range of other industries, particularly the tobacco industry, and focused its efforts on women and children."
Yet despite the availability of triggers for tiny fingers, gun makers and marketers are hesitant to actually spell out what age a child should be before handling his or her first firearm, said Sugarmann. Crickett's website, for instance, makes no references to appropriate age ranges for their child-sized weapons.
"There's a recognition that the majority of the American public has concerns about putting guns in the hands of children," he said.
Through studies and promotional materials, some sporting associations encourage young people to take up hunting and shooting as recreational activities, and point to potential benefits -- both for avid gun-owners and youths themselves -- of young people handling firearms.
A study conducted on behalf of the Hunting Heritage Trust and the National Shooting Sports Foundation in January 2012 asked young people ages 8 to 17 about how they viewed hunting and target shooting. A 385-page report on the telephone survey said the results were clear: Young people who were exposed to hunting and shooting were more likely to have a positive view of those activities.
"The focus groups also revealed substantial willingness among youths to introduce their friends and peers to activities that they themselves participate in and enjoy," the report concluded. "This tendency must be encouraged among youth hunting and shooting ambassadors, as introduction through direct involvement and experience represents the most effective recruitment strategy."
"Junior Shooters" covers the recreational use of firearms by young people, publishing about two or three issues a year since 2007. Available for download online, the magazine features articles written by adults as well as shooters as young as 10, alongside ads from firearms makers including Glock and Heckler & Koch.
"The perspective is you can be involved in the shooting sports, you can have a gun, you can have a career, you can go to the Olympics, you can represent the United States, and you can still do it safely," said editor-in-chief Andy Fink.
The magazine prints about 30,000 copies per issue, Fink said.
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