Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Buying a Gun for Personal Defense Turns into a Tragedy for Family

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Buying a Gun for Personal Defense Turns into a Tragedy for Family

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

Taishay Shanks was a sweet little girl in a place where the threat of violence doesn't leave much room for sweetness to flourish.

The smiling, pigtailed 5-year-old was learning to read. She liked to ride her bike. Play with her dolls.

But while Taishay was fascinated with real toys, her 8-year-old brother, Travarus Shanks, became enamored with an object that was far from being a plaything. According to police reports, late last month he managed to climb atop a china cabinet to get his hands on a loaded gun that his mother had gotten from her boyfriend -- and that his family had already taken from him once before. He wound up fatally shooting Taishay.

But the tragedy doesn't stop there.

Besides losing his little sister, little Travarus also risks losing the nurturing of his mother.

State Attorney Harry Shorstein recently announced that he plans to prosecute his mother, 32-year-old Ronda Webb, for leaving a handgun in a place where Travarus could find it.

By charging Webb with culpable negligence, a third-degree felony, Shorstein believes that he will send a message to other parents about the importance of keeping firearms away from kids.

Maybe some parents will get that message -- although hearing it and heeding it are two different things. But in any case, what ought not be missed is the message encoded in the circumstances surrounding Taishay's slaying -- that message being that Jacksonville's epidemic violent crime rate is leading more people like Webb to look to desperate solutions that could lead to more tragedy.

And from what I can tell, it seems that desperation -- and fear -- joined carelessness as accomplices in Taishay's killing.

Shortly after the little girl was slain, Webb told the Times-Union that she had just purchased the handgun to protect herself and her four children from the escalating crime in her Harts Road neighborhood. She had a reason to be afraid. Since January, police had been called to her apartment complex, River Oaks Apartments, 45 times. Most of the time, the calls were for domestic violence and drugs. …

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