Oops, My Bad

27 Apr


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.

Imagine that?

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?


13 Responses to “Oops, My Bad”

  1. RAB April 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Ah, that dreaded slippery slope.
    I’m not a gun-owner or a gun-owner-wannabe, so my opinion may not hold water as far as gun-owners are concerned, but I’d say acquiring a deadly weapon means acquiring full responsibility for it, including if it’s stolen and used in a crime by the thief. Certainly the penalty for storing a firearm where it can be found and wielded, loaded, by a child should incur a substantial penalty. Someone has lost a loved one because of that irresponsibility. And even if nobody dies, it’s still Reckless Endangerment. If someone does die, it’s Manslaughter, albeit perhaps Involuntary. Not merely Disorderly Person, not merely Misdemeanor. Consider the liability incurred by the owner of a swimming pool of a neighbor child climbs a fence and falls into the pool and drowns. And swimming pools aren’t designed for the purpose of drowning people, as guns are for the purpose of shooting things….

  2. 1wanderingtruthseeker April 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    I think that parents should be sentenced to hard times if a child should get a hold of the gun. That is parenting that should never be premitted to have children.I am pro gun. How many criminals shoot people? A gun law will do nothing about criminals having guns because the don’t follow the law anyway. How many criminals have been shot by gunowners protecting themselves with their legally owned guns? How many deaths are contributed to police shooting criminals. See, the gun shot deaths need to looked at much harder by anti-gun crowd.

    • Rev Dani Lynn April 28, 2013 at 4:05 am #

      To say gun shot deaths need to be looked at much harder by the anti-gun “crowd”, I don’t know why you would assume they haven’t been. – And also, all the stats thrown around out there are not accurate. And you are statistically misinformed if you think stronger gun laws will not help because they have helped where they’ve been applied.

      • 1wanderingtruthseeker April 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

        wrong! check out detriot and chiacgo with their strict gun laws and then check the crime sats.

  3. A Voice April 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    I often wonder how people can be proud to be Americans, legitimately proud. It’s not the same sort of awkward pride at biological accidents, that someone is Irish, homosexual, left-handed or any other thing that is purely an accident of nature and something they had no control over. This is pride on a totally different level, pride in a nation with obvious logical and practical incoherency in its legal system and no demonstrable care for its citizenry as such.

    That is how I would like to answer your question, not with the sort of answer that would immediately appropriate, but rather with a quizzical shake of the head and a statement of confusion at what I’ve seen. I’ll be 30 years-old in August and I’ve watched precious little aside from the wholesale, wilful and open decline of this country.

  4. Ann Graham Price April 27, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Hear, hear.

  5. lwk2431 April 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    “But even if charges are or were filed, is a disorderly persons charge enough for such negligence by a gun owner?”

    Of course cops do stuff like this all the time. Not too long ago a BATFE agent lost a fully automatic submachinegun.

    “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…”

    Which makes a fair amount of sense to most people.

    On the other hand, depending on who’s statistics you believe, Americans use firearms anywhere from 100,000 to 2,500,000 times a year in legitimate self defense (but only in a minute percentage of cases is a gun fired – usually the bad guys leaves the area quickly when confronted with an armed citizen).

    Clearly guns can result in tragedy if carelessly used, but many more times they are used to save life and protect the innocent. That is why I _legally_ carry a concealed handgun.


  6. aurorawatcherak April 28, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    Guns cannot go off “accidentally”. They’re tested in the factory to assure that they cannot. Someone pulled the trigger. He probably didn’t mean to, but that’s what happened.

    Nobody is saying that adults shouldn’t provide proper supervision for both their kids and their guns. When I was growing up, Mom’s gun and the family 22 lived in my parents’ closet. I would have had to climb on a chair and probably a box on top of that to reach. I never would have done that, though, because my parents would have punished me severely and I KNEW it. What’s more, the kids around me KNEW deep down in their bones that THEIR parents would punish them severely for touching a gun. We all knew it, so we all didn’t do it.

    BTW, my kids grew up under the same regime. It was so ingrained into them that when my son got to summer camp and was going to be taught how to shoot a 22 (which we knew, but had forgotten to mention to him), he called us to ask permission to take part in the lesson.

    There are also these things called “trigger locks” which wise parents use.

    Stop blaming the guns and gun owners for the actions of a small portion of the population and recognize that it remains a constitutional right. Amend the constitution if you want to infringe gun rights … good luck convincing the rest of America, however.

  7. Rev Dani Lynn April 28, 2013 at 4:15 am #

    Wow, I read all your comments, very touchy subject. Most people in general (not referring to this blog specifically) don’t seem to look at the big picture. There are so many different circumstances that would need to be considered. You wrote an interesting post, posed good questions, it’s a hard call, I don’t have an answer. – I’m one of those people that doesn’t think any of us should have guns. That in turn would certainly solve the problem of our children accessing them.

  8. lwk2431 April 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    “Guns cannot go off “accidentally”. They’re tested in the factory to assure that they cannot. Someone pulled the trigger. He probably didn’t mean to, but that’s what happened.”

    Depends. There are perfectly serviceable guns out there over a century old. Some have been worked on by competent gunsmiths and some have been worked on by people who shouldn’t.

    So yes, some guns can easily go off if dropped or hit in the right place. But I agree, accidents mostly are “operator failure,” which still qualifies as an accident in my view.


  9. avwalters April 28, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    These tragedies are all about what will never be. Four generations ago, my grandfather went hunting with his cousin. As he bent over to step through a barbwire fence, his rifle caught in the fence and discharged, killing his cousin. Of course, back then, no charges were filed. It might have been better if they had. My grandfather suffered terrible guilt. With no charges, he had no opportunity to explain, no penance to release him from the horror of it. The accident caused a rift between families that never healed. Of their two sons, of course my grandfather killed the “good son.” His brother became a drunk and came to no good end–essentially ending that line of the family. My grandfather took up drinking, too. When he finally dried out, as an older man, the grief and guilt was there waiting for him. He’d loved his cousin and so did everyone involved. There’s the tragedy and loss. He spent years trying to drown the guilt. So another life was spent on the expiation of it. As a very old man he was able to discuss it–and to warn about the issues of gun safety. Somehow that just isn’t enough. I’m from a family that owns guns–and practices extreme gun safety. Why this shouldn’t be universal and mandatory is a mystery to me.

  10. TamrahJo April 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    I guess I’m focusing on what charges should be filed – My thoughts are:
    How did a four year old go missing long enough to find a gun, tote it out and fire it – where was the supervision of children?
    Where was the gun stored that a four year old guest in a home could easily find it, pick it up and discharge it?

    As stated previously, I am a gun owner, from a gun owning family and there is no way any child, myself included, could have reached any of the guns in our household without first asking an adult for a ladder or be observed dragging a kitchen chair into the bedroom – –

    And I may be considered over protective, but I don’t care where I was, when my children were small, they were in my sight or watched over by another family member any time we were anywhere other than home – I had child-proofed my home to the best of my ability, I didn’t assume everyone else did too.

    To me, this story carries so many different points of failure that if any charges are filed, they’d best be distributed widely and fairly – including the owner, the parents and any other guest that may have commented, “Oh look, he’s playing soldier…isn’t that cute?” instead of asking questions….

  11. theohlee April 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Lee Harvey Oswald paid $19.95 for the rifle he used to kill President Kennedy. Those were the days, eh?

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