Here in New Jersey a six year old boy was accidently shot by his 4 year old neighbor after the 4 year old child went into his house and brought outside a loaded rifle which then went off accidently. In Tennessee only a few days before a 4-year-old boy grabbed a loaded gun at a family cookout and accidentally shot to death the wife of a sheriff’s deputy.
In both instances, as far as I know, no charges have been filed against the gun owners but in New Jersey under state law, anyone who knows that a child under the age of 16 could access a loaded firearm in their home can be charged with a disorderly persons offense if they fail to secure it or install a trigger lock.
But even if charges are or were filed, is a disorderly persons charge enough for such negligence by a gun owner? Isn’t it basically a slap on the wrist and an invitation to merely say, “Oops, my bad,” when people have been killed with a weapon that you own to “make yourself safe”?
The United States Supreme Court says that accidentally shooting a gun during the commission of a crime should bring the same penalties as intentionally using a firearm. This decision came when the court upheld the conviction and sentence of Christopher Michael Dean, who was arrested for trying to rob a bank in Rome, Ga., in 2004.
A gun went off accidentally during the attempted robbery and the discharge brought an automatic 10-year sentence for firing a weapon during a crime. Dean appealed, saying the automatic sentence shouldn’t count since the firing of the gun was accidental but Chief Justice John Roberts, said the law “does not require that the discharge be done knowingly or intentionally.” He also added that if criminals want to avoid the penalty for accidental gunfire, they can lock or unload the firearm, handle it with care, leave the gun at home, or avoid having one in the first place.
And Mr. Dean received 10 years in prison even though no one was injured when the gun went off.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control statistics About 600 Americans die in accidental shootings every year. However prosecutor’s rarely if ever bring charges even though the required charge may only be a simple misdemeanor…and most commonly their reaction to a tragedy like this is that the families have suffered enough so why make matters worse…
But is, oops, my bad, enough? Or should there be mandatory legal consequences and compensation made to the aggrieved families? I am not in favor of jail time for tragedies like the ones in Toms River or Tennessee, but I would like to see heavy fines imposed on gun owners who in cases like these did not properly care for or secure their weapons. And I mean fines on the order of, oops, my house now belongs to your family…
So my question is what if any kind of penalty should be imposed on gun owners who do not secure their firearms and whose firearms are then used in the killing of another person whether accidental or not? I’d especially like to know what gun owners and advocates think. Is it fair to ask lethal weapon owners to be legally responsible for their gun’s use or would this send us on the slippery slope to Hitler’s America… again?