When Carelessness Becomes A Crime

Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco californiaThe father of a four year-old New Jersey boy could possibly face prison time for the accidental gun death of his son’s six year-old friend. More than a month after the accidental shooting, the father has been arrested. He is charged with five counts of second-degree child endangerment (for storing the five unsecured firearms in a place that was accessible to his children) and one count of third-degree child endangerment (for for storing one of the firearms in a place that endangered the welfare of the six year-old who was killed). If convicted, this father could face up to 50 years in prison.

Not every state has child endangerment laws for accidental gun deaths. Kentucky, for example, does not. Texas does, but it is rarely enforced. Common sense dictates that firearms be locked and stored away where children and young people do not have access. Common sense also tells us that a loaded firearm is not wise in any household with children and adolescents. Sadly, carelessness prevails more often than common sense.

Gun injuries kill an average of 18 children or young adults every day. That’s the second- leading cause of death in children and young adults, accidental injury being first. That’s more than cancer, diseases, infections, and the like. The United States has more firearm suicides, homicides, and unintentional deaths than any other high income country. Another startling fact from an international study is, among American children 5 to 14, firearm suicides were five times higher, and deaths from unintentional firearms injuries is ten times higher than other high-income countries. Among depressed adolescent less than 5 percent of of suicide attempts involving drugs is fatal, but 90 percent of attempts using firearms is fatal.

Parents already have a long list of things to consider when allowing their children to go off with another friend. Have I met their parents and been to their house? Is there a secured gate around the swimming pool? Will an adult be present? Who’s driving? With the overwhelming number of gun accidents involving children and the unbelievable number of careless adults with firearms, all parents need to consider adding another question to their checklist: Are there firearms in the house? 

What’s it going to take for gun owners to be diligent and responsible? Before you say most gun owners are responsible, here are some other startling facts from a 2006 study of gun-owning Americans with children under 18:

  • 21.7 percent stored a gun loaded
  • 8.3 percent stored at least one gun unlocked and loaded
  • 41.7 percent of the time firearms were left unlocked in households with adolescents ages 13 to 17

I’m not for criminalizing careless behavior, however, maybe an enforced child endangerment law will help people think twice about following responsible firearm protocol. Sadly we cannot guarantee there will be no tragedies. But we can lower the incidence of tragedy begetting tragedy.

Gun Deaths Since Newtown is updated daily to reflect the latest crowdsourced data of names, ages, city, and state of gun deaths in the United States.

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