The shooting happened at a rural Merced County home. Two 3-year-old boys were playing with air rifles when one of them pulled the trigger.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said,"One 3-year-old shot the other and unfortunately, tragically struck his cousin in the eye area."
He's in critical condition with a pellet lodged in his brain. Sheriff Pazin says the boys were emulating their relatives. He says the adults were shooting cans and set the rifles down thinking they weren't loaded.
"Toddlers will see what adults do and they'll replicate that," Sheriff Pazin added.
The rifles are dangerous, especially at close range. Sergeant Scott Dover has one in his home but never lets his son shoot it unless he's around. "These are designed for hunting, they are designed to penetrate tissue... especially the pellets that have a point."
Sgt. Dover says the rifles are not considered firearms but they still shouldn't be treated like toys. "You treat it like any other firearm... always assume it's loaded, don't ever point it at something you don't want to shoot," he added.
In this case, Sheriff Pazin says the rifles were left out and within reach. It's a tragic lesson in gun safety.
"I don't care if it's knife, a pellet gun, shotgun, rifle or handgun, they need to be secured because look what happened," Sheriff Pazin said.
The District Attorney will review the case and decide whether any adults will face charges.