DETROIT, US - A four-year-old girl in Detroit shot dead her young cousin as they played with a gun, in the latest of a series of accidental child killings by firearms across America.

Police said the relative - a four-year-old boy - was shot in the chest after she pointed the gun at him, after they discovered a rifle under a bed in a family home. They were playing while their grandfather was elsewhere in the house, officers said. The boy, who has not been named, was rushed to a local hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Describing the shooting as a “tragic, tragic accident”, Captain Rodney Cox said: “This does not appear to be responsible gun ownership”. He told Detroit residents: “Make sure your weapons are secure”. Olivia Queensbury, a neighbour, told reporters that the victim was “fun to be around,” describing him as “a good little boy.” Dorothy Jameson, another neighbour, told The Detroit Free Press: “I was just devastated. I was wondering why two 4-year-olds have access to a gun in the first place.” While mass killings and murders with firearms attract more public attention, dozens of American children die every year in accidental shootings.

An investigation by Mother Jones magazine last month found that 194 American children under the age of 12 had died in the past year as a result of gunshot wounds. Of these, 127 died from incidents in their own homes. At least 52 involved a child handling a gun that had been left unsecured.

Officials at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found in the late 1990s that American children were nine times more likely to die in gun accidents than children in other rich countries. They have since been banned from researching gun violence by congressmen pressured by the influential National Rifle Association (NRA).

While the most striking incidents, such as five-year-old Kristian Sparks shooting his two-year-old sister dead in Kentucky last year, attract international focus, many more go relatively unnoticed. Attempts to pass laws forcing gun owners to keep their firearms in locked boxes are aggressively opposed by the NRA, which says they would “undermine a citizen’s right to self-defence” by making guns difficult to reach in an emergency. Hours after the boy’s death in Detroit, two women and a man were seriously injured in a drive-by shooting of their sports utility vehicle on the east side of the city.