A 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his mother after he reached into her purse at a northern Idaho Walmart and her concealed gun fired, authorities said Tuesday.

Veronica J. Rutledge, 29, was shopping with her son and three other children, Kootenai County sheriff's spokesman Stu Miller told The Associated Press. Rutledge was from Blackfoot in southeastern Idaho, and her family had come to the area to visit relatives.

Rutledge had a concealed weapons permit. Miller said the young boy was left in a shopping cart, reached into his mother's purse and grabbed a small-calibre handgun, which discharged one time.

Deputies who responded to the Walmart found Rutledge dead, the sheriff's office said.

The victim's father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told The Associated Press that the victim "was a beautiful, young, loving mother."

"She was not the least bit irresponsible," Terry Rutledge said. "She was taken much too soon."

Rutledge's husband was not in the store when the shooting happened at about 10:20 a.m. Miller said the man arrived shortly after the shooting. All the children were taken to a relative's house.

The shooting occurred in the Walmart in Hayden, Idaho, a town about 64 kilometres northeast of Spokane, Washington state. The store closed and was not expected to reopen until Wednesday morning.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said in a statement the shooting was a "very sad and tragic accident."

"We are working closely with the local sheriff's department while they investigate what happened," Buchanan said.

There do not appear to be reliable national statistics about the number of accidental fatalities involving children handling guns.

In neighbouring Washington state, a three-year-old boy was seriously injured in November when he accidentally shot himself in the face in a home in Lake Stevens, about 50 kilometres north of Seattle.

In April, a two-year-old boy apparently shot and killed his 11-year-old sister while they and their siblings played with a gun inside a Philadelphia home. Authorities said the gun was believed to have been brought into the home by the mother's boyfriend.

Concealed weapons laws favour gun rights advocates

Hayden is a politically conservative town of about 9,000 people just north of Coeur d'Alene, in Idaho's northern panhandle.

Idaho lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses.

Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state's university college presidents, lawmakers sided with gun rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Constitution.

Under the law, gun holders are barred from bringing their weapons into dormitories or buildings that hold more than 1,000 people, such as stadiums or concert halls.

Hayden Idaho

A Google map showing Hayden, Idaho. (Google)