(Reuters) - Three people including a retired sheriff's deputy were wounded on Saturday at a gun show in North Carolina when a 12-gauge shotgun accidentally discharged as its owner was taking it out of its case, state officials said.
The incident comes as the country debates gun control and the rights of gun owners after a man armed with an assault rifle killed 20 first graders and six adults last month at an elementary school in Connecticut - the deadliest of a string of U.S. shooting sprees last year.
Saturday's shooting occurred when Gary Lynn Wilson, 36, of Wilmington, North Carolina, approached the entrance of the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh to have his personal firearm inspected.
The shotgun fired as he removed it from its case, according to a statement by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, a host of the gun show.
Two patrons of the gun show were injured - a 50-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman - as was a 54-year-old retired Wake County Sheriff's deputy who was working at the show. None of the injuries were life-threatening, the statement said.
"They all were struck by birdshot from the gun," said Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long.
The incident coincided with a day of rallies across the country by gun rights advocates who say the right to own firearms is under attack from President Barack Obama's proposals to reduce gun violence.
On Sunday, gun control advocates plan events at houses of worship to demand more gun regulation.
The North Carolina gun show will go ahead as planned on Sunday, but no private gun sales will be allowed and personal guns will not be allowed on the property.
(Reporting By Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)