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Should owners of guns in accidental shootings be prosecuted?(15 posts)

Should owners of guns in accidental shootings be prosecuted?PdxMark
Jan 29, 2003 3:36 PM
Particularly for accidental shootings by children. Let's say it's for reckless endangerment of children.

Here's yet another news story about a child (of a police officer) killed by a parent's unsecured gun. Just a week or two ago a local boy killed his sister while playing with a parent's unsecured gun. In that case, the boy was on probation for having wielded his dad's gun in the neighborhood on some earlier occaision. Rather than being locked, the gun was just placed on an upper shelf. So in this case, the parent's KNEW the boy played with his father's guns and they still were not secured.

Are these really "accidents?" What besides recklessness would be the reason to have an unsecure gun in a household with children? The risk of losing a child would seem to be a great enough incentive to secure guns, but it's apparently not. Maybe the risk of a few months in jail would be a better inducement to store guns safely than the life of one's own child.
I think so. But in the end you'll have just as many shootings.czardonic
Jan 29, 2003 3:46 PM
And a few more people in jail. The reason that these things happen in the fist place is because of people who think the worst case scenario will never happen to them. Stiffer penalties won't make them think twice when they aren't thinking once in the first place.

Nonetheless, I'm all of holding gun owners responsible for deaths that almost certainly wouldn't occur without their careless behavior. Charge them with manslaughter, or in the case of non-lethal incidents, the equivalently serious charge.
Jan 29, 2003 10:45 PM
On all points, I guess the hardest part to quantify is careless behavior. Is owning a gun and having children careless; only if it's loaded; only if it's unlocked; only all three; what if all, is it reasonable to assume a teenager won't "crack" the security measures? I don't really know the answers. I do know that accidental shootings by children kill something like 50 a year, not insignificant by any means, but compared to the over 40,000 deaths each year by careless driving, often illegal at that, the problem itself pales in comparison. I think it should be tackled first with manslaughter charges. If only because it has the potential to save nearly 3 orders of magnitude more people, that it would make the roads safer for us is gravy.
Jan 30, 2003 10:46 AM
Traffic laws are dismally under-enforced in this country. Speeding is considered the norm, turn signals considered optional, and pedestrian right of way completely ignored.

The idea that people can literally get away with murder with excuses like "sorry, I didn't see him" is ludicrous. If you are so careless as to not be able to see someone crossing the road, you aren't qualified to operate an automobile. Period. It's tough getting by without a car, but at least you have your health.
To some extent. They certainly are responsible.Matno
Jan 29, 2003 3:46 PM
All gun owners should be responsible for taking reasonable precautions against misuse of their firearms. On the other hand, I think you have to draw a line somewhere (not necessarily a strict age-based line). For example, a normal, inquisitive 12 year old is fully capable of getting past any gun "security" that I would consider reasonable. (A lock and key defeats the purpose of keeping a gun for home security). A normal 12 year old should also be answerable to his or her own actions. I knew exactly where guns were in my house from as early as I can remember (younger than 5 years old). I also knew that going in that closet was strictly forbidden, and I also knew never to play with real guns. Period. Parents should be responsible for teaching their children gun safety. Should they be prosecuted for misuse? Yes, if they were reckless. Unfortunately, I think a lot of non-gun owners have a serious problem with what is "unsafe."
Jan 29, 2003 4:24 PM
I'm not sure, but since my brother almost shot me when we were pre-teen, I keep guns locked in a safe.

Well. . .js5280
Jan 29, 2003 5:51 PM
Let's apply a little common sense here. Is it reasonable to keep a loaded gun around the house? Yes. Is it reasonable to keep a loaded gun around the house if you're a police officer? Definitely yes. If anyone has to worry about self-protection, it is a police officer. Is it reasonable to let children have un-supervised access to loaded weapons and ammunition? No, it's not a good idea even if you've taught your kids about gun safety. In this case, it was probably poor judgment for the officer to leave a loaded weapons around but I'd want to see gross negligence. My guess it was for protection purposes. Criminals won't necessaily wait for you to load your weapon or get your bullets unfortunately. My parents had a gun under the mattress when I was kid. I knew about it too. Don't remember if it was loaded or not, but the bullets were right there if not. They taught me though to respect guns and treat them like they are always loaded, always, always, always!

It is even worse judgment for the girl to put the gun to her head and pull the trigger. Wonder where she learned that behavior from? Want to take a guess? I hope this officer talked to his kids about gun safety and this was just stupidity on her part. I hope any parent, even those who vehemently oppose guns teach their kids about facts of gun safety because someday they just might come across one.

If you don't know you can get the facts on gun safety, here's a link or do a quick search on child/kid gun safety:

It is a tragedy this little girl died and I'm sure the misery her father feels is worse than any jail sentence you could impose.

If you expand this argument, what if it's a kitchen knife, hammer, baseball bat, plastic bag, toy that's a potential choking hazard, or other object that hurts or kills a child? Not to dismiss the issue, but would the same logic apply or are we just demonizing firearms? Personally I believe that parents should be liable, but you have to show gross negligence. The tragedy of the situation is punishment enough in my opinion unless you can prove gross negligence.
What would be gross negligence?PdxMark
Jan 29, 2003 6:34 PM
Thanks for the link. We've actually instructed our kids to leave or call to come home if they ever see a gun at someone's home.

I agree that the misery of the father would be unfathomable, but our society prosecutes many child endangerment crimes despite the parent feeling bad.

I'm not experienced with handling guns, so what besides having a loaded gun in a house with young kids would constitute gross negligence?
Your question is biased already. . .js5280
Jan 29, 2003 7:12 PM
It implies the mere fact of having a loaded gun in a house with young kids is gross negligence. I would argue that is not gross negligence. If that gun is locked away in a safe or firebox, that would be reasonable protection, far from gross negligence. A trigger lock may be reasonable as well if it prevented the gun from firing. If a gun where on a high shelf where a child could not reasonably get to it, that wouldn't be negligent. However this might negligent if you had a teenager in the house because it is in reasonable to assume that could move a chair or physically reach it. However, if someone else's child comes to your house (not on a regular basis though), and you have no children, I think that standards would relax more. For example, the weapon isn't in plain sight or reach which would require someone to actively look for it are reasonable steps in this case. In a nutshell, I think the definition would be did the person take reasonable steps to protect their child from accessing the weapon. That's not a 100% guaranteed nothing bad could happen, but what steps would a reasonable person take to prevent this from happening. I'm not sure of the exact legal definition. That would probably be up to a jury to decide and differ from state to state, even case to case.

Just so you know, I included the NRA's stand. Despite the constant portrayal of NRA as radical gun nuts hell bent for the complete abolition of all guns laws, that is FAR from the case. The gun issue is probably the most politicized issue out there and rarely are the facts addressed in the mainstream media or by politicians. When they frame the issue the way that they do, it typically makes the pro-gun lobby appear like they are completely nuts. The NRA does it too. They both play on fear (your kid being shot or the government taking your guns from you) to gain political ground.

NRA Gun Safety Rules

1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
When holding a gun, rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.

3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Whenever you pick up a gun, immediately engage the safety device if possible, and, if the gun has a magazine, remove it before opening the action and looking into the chamber(s) which should be clear of ammunition. If you do not know how to open the action or inspect the chamber(s), leave the gun alone and get help from someone who does.

When Using Or Storing A Gun, Always Follow These NRA Rules:
Know your target and what is beyond. Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.

Know how to use the gun safely. Before handling a gun, learn how it operates. Know its basic parts, how to safely open and close the action and remove any ammunition from the gun or magazine. Remember, a gun's mechanical safety device is never foolproof. Nothing can ever replace safe gun handling.
Be sure the gun is safe to operate. Just like other tools, guns need regular maintenance to remain operable. Regular cleaning and proper storage are a part of the gun's general upkeep. If there is any question concerning a gun's ability to function, a knowledgeable gunsmith should look at it.

Use only the c
I agree with the safety precautions you mention....PdxMark
Jan 30, 2003 8:56 AM
except maybe the high shelf one. In the recent local shooting, that was the option the parent chose.
Jan 30, 2003 8:57 AM
The safe handling rules for adults you posted are guaranteed to prevent shooting accidents, but our culture is still full of crazy ideas about guns. The term "loaded gun" is one way I can always tell an anti-, actual gun owners never use that term. Real anti-s use the term "fully loaded gun" when describing a particular tragic instance.

By the way I got a kick out of your use of the term teenager. I guess you have never seen a four year old climb a set of book shelves or reach the kitchen cabinet above the fridge. It a miracle of human evolution and civil engineering.

Hiding a gun where someone can't see it is also irelevant. When an adult hides something (booze, xmas presents, vibrator, etc.), they hide it from other adults. Kids see right through most hiding places. There is no door, drawer, closet, box or bag that they won't open, even if they have no reason to believe there is something good inside. It is hard-wired curiosity that cannot be prevented.

The shooting community has long been serching for a means to secure a firearm without making it useless for defensive purposes. There have been some good ideas, but none that is perfect. The best I have seen is one of the most expensive. It is the gun vault, a black box big enough to put a gun or two inside, it is opened by pressing the correct sequence of bottons on the top of the box. The buttons are layed out in the shape of a hand to make it easy to use in the dark. There are more expensive ways, like embedding a transmitter in your skin and other far-out solutions. It is not an easy problem to solve.
dependsDuane Gran
Jan 30, 2003 5:56 AM
If my child (disclaimer: I'm currently not a parent) were shot at his or her friend's house, I think I would expect the parents to face charges if they didn't secure the gun. I respect a person's right to own firearms for protection, but I also expect them to make sure that no minor gains access to it. In my opinion you can't have the right without the responsibility.

I'll have to admit that punishing the parent doesn't do much to prevent future accidents, so I'm at a bit of a loss.
My upbringing...ClydeTri
Jan 30, 2003 7:07 AM
I grew up in the suburbian south, yet just a half mile away from woods/creeks. I was taught from an early age to respect firearms. For my 11th birthday I got a rifle, a .22 semiautomatic. A year or so later I got a single shot shotgun, 12 guage, for Christmas. I was taught how to use them and I had possession of the ammunition. I also knew the consequences of using the firearms in a wrong manner. I was taught to never point a firearm, loaded or unloaded, at a living being unless you want that creature to die.
I was not that uncommon in my "circle". I knew several other kids my age who had rifles. Doubt this goes on much today unless you get into a very rural area. Why has it changed? Probably lots of being lack of discipline growing up...children who are being raised by "children of the 60s" are not the same as it used to be....lots more influences, such as violent tv,crime, drugs, etc have changed the world. But, I am a believer in the adage..guns dont kill people , people do. Firearms are merely tools for people use. The firearm doesnt load itself, arm itself, aim and fire..that all takes an intentional act of a person.
No such thing as an accident....Brooks
Jan 31, 2003 9:12 AM
Pulling a trigger is an intentional act, just like not paying attention while driving and then plowing into a cyclist. That said, gun owners should keep firearms locked up. I don't buy the "home defense" argument as, I hazard to guess, there are more "accidental" shootings each year than burglars being shot/stopped at gunpoint. I don't have kids and don't own a gun (and never will). I also don't agree with the NRA on the Second Amendment (they always conveniently leave off the "well-regulated militia" clause). My father had a .22 rifle that was off-limits to us kids and he kept the ammo locked in a safe. We were taught how to shoot it but it never had any appeal to me. Even my buddy's pellet gun had little appeal after a couple of minutes shooting at cans and bottles.

Your views may be different...
Accidental Shooting > Self Defense is a myth!js5280
Jan 31, 2003 3:55 PM
I've seen the statistics many times in the past but don't have them handy. I found this web site site which seems to do a quote job of quoting reliable sources on the matter. There is a lot of mis-information though on the issue from both sides though. However, you can sure a shooting will be reported in the media prominately, however someone who chases a burgular out of the house probably would only make the police blotter if at all.

MYTH: "Guns cause 38,000 deaths in America each year, and 8,000 of these are CHILDREN!"

FACT: These statistics on "child" gun deaths are exaggerated by including young adult criminals, often up to 18, and sometimes up to 24 years old. So these "child gun death" statistics include young adult drug dealers killing each other in turf battles. Such deaths are not nearly as tragic as a truly innocent young child being killed, (which is what most people think of when you say "child gun deaths"). Any other use of that phrase is very misleading.

The truth is, the number of American kids aged 0 to 15 killed with guns is about 950 each year; not 8,000 as is often claimed. Guns are involved in less than half of one percent of all child deaths! The chances of an American child aged 0 to 15 being killed with a gun are only about one in 50,000! That's a risk factor of 1/50 of one percent. For white kids, the risk is only about one in 100,000! That's hardly an "epidemic." One such death occurs every nine hours; not every ninety minutes as is usually claimed.

Also, the "gun death" statistics quoted by the anti self defense lobby include all deaths from guns. So they include gun deaths that are actually justified; as when a citizen or officer shoots a criminal who is trying to rob, rape or murder. Finally, the anti-gun "statistics" always fail to mention the many times guns are used to prevent crime and save lives.(See next page.) (Sources: National Center for Health Statistics, Advanced Data From Vital and Health Statistics, No. 231, 1992. New England Journal of Medicine Vol. 270: 2207-2212, 1993.)

MYTH: "A gun kept in your home is 43 times more likely to be used against you (or a loved one) than against a burglar."

FACT: This claim is repeated so often in the media and by gun control groups, that most people just assume it is true. But it is not supported by scientific evidence. This "statistic" is taken completely out of context from the infamous King County Study conducted by Dr. Arthur Kellerman in 1986. In fact, this study was based entirely on a body count at one local morgue. It simply attempted to compare the number of gun deaths which were justified, to the number of gun deaths which were not justified. But this study failed to include any use of guns unless someone was killed. Therefore, it excluded almost 98% of all defensive uses of guns!

You see, when criminals use guns they are much more likely to pull the trigger, (and so are more likely to kill) than when homeowners use guns for defense. So if your research only considers gun deaths, then your data will be skewed to make it look like guns are used more often for crime than for defense. Dr. Kellerman even admitted this. He stated, "Mortality studies such as ours do not include cases in which burglars are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm...A complete determination of firearm risks versus benefits would require that these figures be known."

Well, now those figures are known. Fourteen studies have been done since the Kellerman article. The findings are clear. Criminal use guns to commit about 800,000 crimes per year, but Americans use guns to prevent crime at least 1.1 to 2.5 million times each year. This is an obvious net benefit for society. People who cite Kellerman's study also fail to mention that 84% of all the "unjustified" gun deaths in that study were suicides. It is highly debatable how many of these d