Blue Byline

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Controlling one’s gun is not “Gun Control”

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm with 29 Comments »
March 14, 2012 5:35 pm

There is at least one commonality between the role of parent and that of gun owner – both require a heightened level of personal responsibility. Ensuring the safety of children is an instinctual trait for our species. Being a responsible gun owner just makes good sense. When both these roles are ignored, the results can be tragic.

As I began research for this column, the circumstances surrounding the February 22 accidental shooting of an 8-year-old girl in a Port Orchard elementary school were well-documented (Trib 3/13). On the heels of this tragedy came the story of a 7-year-old shot by her younger sibling, using a loaded firearm left unsecured in the family car. In today’s print edition was another similar shooting, this time in Little Rock, Arkansas, wherein a 9-year-old shot her younger brother when their parents momentarily left the family’s home.

This string of easily preventable accidents were enough to spur this column. Then I opened up the Trib’s online page to check a particular fact and read the title, “3-year-old accidently shoots, kills himself.” I was probably not alone in assuming this related to one of the three stories above. Now we all know differently.

Another loaded gun left unattended – one more young child lost.

Gun safe/ courtesy of kaboodle.com

These events are not related by any bizarre conspiracy. Each incident, however, has obvious circumstantial similarities that tie them together in a tangled and bloody knot: failure to unload or lock up firearms; failure to account for minor children; failure to recognize the devastating possibilities of combining the two. These adults failed in their duty to protect both their weapons and their children.

The Port Orchard incident, which involves 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman, is a case in point. The mother of the young boy who brought the gun to school was recently charged, along with her boyfriend, with Assault 3rd degree in Kitsap County Superior Court. County Prosecutor Russ Hauge determined that the gross misdemeanor charge of Reckless Endangerment was insufficient given the impact of the shooting on young Kocer-Bowman, who almost died as a result.

The particular circumstances of the Port Orchard case, such as allegations of drug use and abysmal parenting ascribed to the mother, Jamie Lee Chaffin, certainly provide a reason for elevated charges. But the felony assault charge is not ideal. It was not drafted to encompass the grossly negligent behavior of the man and woman charged with the crime, and there is no surety that the prosecution will be successful.

The Marysville shooting is playing out much differently. In this case the loaded and unsecured weapon, with which one sibling shot and killed another, was the property of their father, a police officer. No charges have been filed, perhaps because the victim and shooter were siblings. In either case, there is no state law to hold negligent gun owners accountable for the tragic results. That would be in the 27 other states which do.

But our state law does define negligence. According to RCW 9A.08.010, a person’s actions are negligent, “when he or she fails to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her failure to be aware of such substantial risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.”

Does leaving a loaded gun in the presence of children seem like something a reasonable person would do? The answer is no.

This is not a problem seeking a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, gun ownership requires the complete attention of everyone with skin in the game. That includes law enforcement, lawmakers and gun owners. It also includes the National Rifle Association which so proudly promotes gun safety but works so hard against gun accountability. There has been a deadly tally since the NRA successfully blocked a 1996 measure making it a misdemeanor to allow children access to loaded weapons.

The real question is whether the gun lobby will continue to view any attempt to hold gun owners responsible for their weapons as the stealthy presence of gun control. The answer depends on whether the attempt to save innocent lives from negligent gun owners could possibly be an infringement on their 2nd Amendment rights.

The answer, again, is no.

Leave a comment Comments → 29
  1. A woman in the building got bit by her dog tonight.
    How much care and maintenance does a cousin to a
    pit bull require? Categorization laws and regulations
    of people are leaky but physical device laws might be a way
    to save some lives.

  2. Chippert says:

    The Marysville incident is playing out much differently evidently for one reason alone and that has nothing to do with the fact that the shooter and victim were siblings. Pure and simple, the father is a police officer who will get preferential treatment and a blind eye turned in his direction. No need to pretend anything different. In all the other cited cases, there will be prosecutions.

  3. rivitman says:

    Ok Brian. Propose a level of accountability (punishment) that will put an end to these incidents. Even reduce them.

    You can’t really, because you cannot fix negligence via punishment. The best you might obtain is some vague notion of “justice”.

    The better, more effective route would be education, combined with a consistent PR campaign, Not unleashing politicians like Adam Kline to do their dirty work loading the books with even more laws that won’t be effectively prosecuted, and for which the penalties will be diminished by the courts and the overburdened correctional system.

    Lets say we prosecute the police officer. He and his wife have lost a child. He may lose his job. If he goes to prison, his wife and remaining child lose him, and his income, and his ability to earn future income is harmed.

    That makes everything better right?

    And you are right. The NRA is not only the leading advocate of gun safety, but the top hands on, boots on the ground educator in the field. What has the government done? Nothing. Law enforcement? Nothing. The public schools? Nothing. The Brady campaign? Nothing

    The NRA can, has, and will go into any school they are invited to to teach gun safety. They get shunned.

    Anyone who seeks it, can get NRA sponsored firearms training, even as politicians and the anti gun crowd work to restrict, diminish, and close firing ranges where that training can be conducted.

    And if you are going to make the statement that the NRA works against accountability, you need to back up that hyperbole. That’s a pretty outrageous statement and I challenge you on it. The anti gun crowd doesn’t want gun safety, they want zero guns. Mr Kline killed three pro gun bill himself this session. There is no compromise, because there is nobody to compromise with.

    As to the 1996 proposal, if memory serves me, was objectionable as being overly broad, as most gun law proposals both passed and failed were in 1996.

    Lets see how many laws failed to protect the little girl up north.

    Felon in possession.

    Minor in possession.

    No Guns in schools.

    Probably more but those come to mind. And you want more? The little boy in question KNEW what he was doing was wrong, but did it anyway. We aren’t going to imprison him, and rightly so. But so much for the concept of “accountability”. A word often thrown out in the wake of these incidents, but not very thoroughly contemplated.

  4. Well put, Rivitman.

  5. Objective says:

    Brian stated- “There has been a deadly tally since the NRA successfully blocked a 1996 measure making it a misdemeanor to allow children access to loaded weapons”.

    First what is that tally, you are basing your statement? How does that compare to children dying in car accidents (improperly seatbelted or not at all), or drugs and other medications not properly secured at home.

    You like to bash the NRA, but there have been 4 separate incidents that I am aware of. Two of those incidents involved police officers guns and their children. Correct me if I am wrong here, but aren’t they supposed to be the ones enforcing laws? Two people are being brought up on charges, but the two officers involved are not. Can you please explain?

    Besides, you mean to say with the thousands of laws already in the books. There is nothing that can be used in these tragic events. I don’t need a law to tell me to keep my gun safe and secure. I already do that!!!! If you passed another law, do you think these stupid people would comprehend it?

  6. BlaineCGarver says:

    As has been already stated….Laws were broken in each case Brian cited….BTW, the most recent case…was his carry permit from Oregon, like his car registration? If so, his permit is NOT valid in WA, and he more than likely left it in his car as to not get caught. This could possibly be a case of where a national carry law could have saved a life. It’s completely ignorant for two states that both allow carry to not recognize each other. It would be like saying that a couple married in WA is not married in OR.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    I had a feeling that this column would create a stir for those who consider the 2nd Amendment one of our primary rights. You made some fair points, but I stand by my statements.

    I recognize that the NRA has long championed the notion of gun safety, and may in fact be its best advocate. The same can not be said when it comes to accountability. The NRA lobby was largely to blame for the non-existence of a state law that prohibits this type of negligence. If the 1996 bill was overly broad, as one comment suggested, why didn’t the NRA suggest a suitable alternative?

    Nowhere, in any of these comments, is there a mention of the culpability of a person who negligently allows a child access to a loaded firearm. Objective mentions children dying in car accidents by comparison, to which I say, so what? Does that mean that all of the children shot over the last few weeks are mere statistical clutter compared to the huge numbers killed in vehicle collisions? Yes, the recent shootings have been well above the average (which is about one minor killed by accidental gunfire each year in WA). But that smaller number does not mean that reasonably preventative steps should not be taken.

    Enforcement is also a prevention tool. Holding people accountable for their actions, as police do when people run red lights or commit other driving violations, is one way of ensuring that future violations don’t occur. Regardless of your feelings about traffic tickets, there is no doubt that they lessen traffic fatalities.

    I would prefer to see the NRA use its clout to assist in the draft of suitable legislation, which includes differing penalties depending upon different scenarios. In the meantime, without a statute covering the duties of gun owners (myself included), then individual prosecutors will have to continue cobbling together ill-fitting charges. That would be the least fair part of this debacle.

  8. Brian, is the 2nd Amendment (one of our primary rights, as you state) any less important than any other RIGHT as outlined in the constitution, which (last time I checked) you swore an oath to uphold? It is not “one of our primary rights”, it is a right no more or less equal than any other constitutional right.

    Second, your mention of traffic enforcement is also spot on, but not as you imagined. People STILL break those laws, regardless of it being a) enforced b) stiffer penalties added) or c) even more laws created to stop it. In the same vein, just adding MORE laws does NOTHING to change negligent behavior. People will still do it and people, including kids, will still die.

    And I’m sorry, but passing more laws (which only punish the otherwise law abiding and responsible folks) are simply knee jerk feel good “think of the children!” emotional responses that result in all the same thing – nothing.

  9. Objective says:

    Brian Stated- Objective mentions children dying in car accidents by comparison, to which I say, so what?

    If that is the case, so what if a kid is killed due to a gross act of negligence with a handgun.

    Brian also stated- “But that smaller number does not mean that reasonably preventative steps should not be taken”.

    I would really like to hear what law would “Prevent” these kids from being killed? Are you going to inspect everybodys firearm in their house or on their person to make sure it is properly secured or unloaded? Then again, who would be doing that? The police? Especially when they have had their fair share of problems also.

    Gandalf, well said I agree with you completely.

  10. Objective says:

    Brian- Here is another one, which you may already be well aware of.

    http://mynorthwest.com/174/618739/Washington-state-lawmakers-push-gun-safety-bill

  11. Brian O'Neill says:

    If providing and enforcing a law does nothing to change behavior, as Gandalf suggests, then why do we have laws in the first place? Do our laws exist to recognize injustice? Are they in place to firmly declare the people’s opposition to selfish and cruel behavior? Is the punishment a means to hold people accountable for their misdeeds?

    By this reasoning, and since people continue to break laws, perhaps it is time to abolish statutes that prohibit, say, homicide. Rape. Assault. Or, could it be that a society based on just laws will actually function and become a safer place as a result?

    Given the statistics I have seen – stats which highlight the decrease in fatalities with increased enforcement – and the anecdotal evidence of a career in law enforcement, I believe I will stick to the laws. I will continue to enforce those laws. And I will continue to point out when the laws need repair, as is the case with negligent gun owners.

  12. Objective says:

    Brian, here is another one which you may already be aware of.

    http://mynorthwest.com/174/618739/Washington-state-lawmakers-push-gun-safety-bill

  13. Objective says:

    Did we strike a nerve Brian? Do you think we are not aware of statistics? The FBI has reported violent crime across the U.S. has dropped since the assault weapons ban expired. Is that cause of laws? Is that due to police work out there? Or is it criminals realize potential victims are more likely to shoot back?

    Now here is one of those. The mother and her boyfriend of the boy who brought the gun to school, were arrested. Charges will be coming most likely soon enough for the most recent childs death. How about those police officers whose children died?

    Do you chose which laws to enforce, as in who should be and should not be charged? Tell me Brian, how many traffic tickets have you ever received? Or do police officers let each other off as a “Professional Courtesy”?

    You said, there is an average of one child a year in the state of Washington killed cause of gun related negligence. How many laws are there regarding say children getting a hold of prescription meds? Or matches? unattended children near a swimming pool?

    I believe it has come to the point, if we report a crime and a cop shows up great, if not that is how it goes. So, what if another law is passed.

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    If your aim is to take verbal potshots at cops, I won’t stop you. And if you can’t appreciate the insight of someone who has spent their career within the framework of the topic at hand, then let’s just agree to disagree.

  15. “Those who consider the 2nd Amendment one of our primary rights”

    You speak of it is such de minimis language. That says something.

    Well yes. I do consider it vital. And the supreme court having ruled it as such I think those of you that do not believe it should take notice, instead of tossing aside logic and common sense every time the word ‘GUN’ appears.

    As for me, it a gun rights issue yes. A constitutional issue It’s also a freedom issue, a fairness issue, and an equal justice under the law issue.

    I have heard is said many times that existing law doesn’t allow for prosecution in these cases, yet there is mumbling admission that it has happened, and been successful. There is no evidence that I know of, that existing law has been ineffective if the case is charged and tried. Prosecutors always want lay-ups, even as they plea down serious felonies.

    The first thing you have to admit Brian, is that if any sort of conciliatory, productive dialog is to be initiated, is that the word ‘GUN’ is in involved. Not any of the myriad of other ways gross negligence can and regularly does cause the death or injury of a child. Child left around an unfenced, unattended swimming pool drowns? Reckless. Negligent. Go out to the driveway. Get in your car, and back over your child, knowing there were kids playing in the yard? Negligent, Unthinking.

    The difference between these being classified as negligent child endangerment, OR an accident, is that in this instance, a child accesses a GUN to tragic ends. The inanimate bogeyman. The fact that the “GUN” is involved makes all the difference. As if the means makes any difference between an accident, and reckless, callous endangerment rising to the level of a crime. The mere mention of the word “GUN” has a special power. It turns many peoples ability to think rationally …..OFF.

    If you are willing to find an agreeable solution, you just have to let go of the word “GUN”, and turn your rational brain back on.

    And again, you you need to back up your words about the NRA being obstructive with detailed facts. Or I would ask you to retract them in their absence.

  16. cclngthr says:

    BlaneCarver,

    Legally, I (with my WA CCW) can go into Oregon with my firearm and be legal there because WA and OR have an agreement between the states that makes the gun license valid in both states, although one state issued the license.

    Brian,

    I think think the felony charges would stick; there are existing laws at the state and federal level that control gun usage and storage. If the state does not have a specific law regarding children access to guns, the federal laws may be an option for prosecution.

    I also think people want to see cops getting the same punishment as ordinary citizens, where the Marysville cop would be automatically charged with a crime when he left his weapon unattended (or any person for that matter in cases where kids are killed or injured by cars, guns etc.). Cops do carry firearms; and this is a given. Some people might believe that cops should leave their weapon at work, rather than taking it home with them.

    I think the gun part in these cases is not the issue; although the gun was present. The adult was neglegent in seeing that the child was safe. The adults knew that the guns were present. They posessed the weapons; or owned/registered the weapon in their name. They also failed to supervise the kid properly around the devise. (I could say the same thing regarding cases where drivers back over young children in cars). This may also get into laws that are about child abuse.

    I think current laws can be used. We don’t need more.

  17. Objective says:

    We can defintely agree to disagree. We can agree with the title of this article “Controlling ones gun is not Gun Control. We disagree on the need for more laws, that will not prevent tragedies as such. I was hoping with your career within the framework of the topic at hand. You would be able to answer a couple questions.

    I have been driving over 30 years, NEVER got a ticket, NEVER had a police officer correct me on anything. I follow laws even those I strongly disagree with. If you do not have an anwser for those questions, a simple “I don’t know” or “I will look into that” would be fine with me. But to turn the table and say it is taking verbal potshots is kind of weak.

  18. BlaineCGarver says:

    Unless the State AG is passing out bogus info, I stand by my statement about Or and Wa

    http://www.atg.wa.gov/ConcealedWeapons/Reciprocity.aspx

  19. Brian O'Neill says:

    I applaud your restraint, Objective, but you do not represent the majority of people out there – especially the 5% that commit 95% of the crime. The rest of us are safer, though burdened by an excess of laws, yes.

    Two last points in the direction of general comments before moving on: the Feds won’t touch these gun cases; and no attempt to protect our rights should include diminishing the death of young children.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  20. Objective says:

    Brian, correct me if I am wrong here. Even though I practice restraint, attempting to set an example for my family and neighbors. Would you say, I fall into that 5% or 95%?

    How many laws do you think it would take to make us totally safe from ourselves, criminials etc.?

    Do like the avoidance of some of those questions though. Can’t really blame you. Get the same thing from the government also.

  21. cclngthr says:

    Brian,

    I believe that excess laws will do more damage than good, and even if we enact these laws, it may be contrary to federal laws. I think we can utilize existing laws to charge parents of children who use guns illegally.

    When I bought my firearm, I had a discussion with the clerk at Guns and Bows where I bought it about license issues and gun posession. She mentioned that the license can be suspended/revoked at will of the state and federal government if the registered firearm is used illegally or an illegal act which prohibits the posession of the CCW; something an FBI agent told her during a recent call regarding the purchase of a firearm from another person. The agent was wanting to know where this person was and how to get ahold of him..

    I think, personally, that if someone wants to be irresponsible with guns around children, child abuse charges, which may include dependency hearings should be filed. If they continue to be stupid with the weapon, let them, and they can thin out the population a little.

  22. The question that needs to be put, clearly, consistently and often, is this:

    Why is a death or injury due to the negligent handling, storage, or loss of control of a firearm any different that a death or injury due to any other incident of negligence?

    The answer is that the anti gun crowd want to single out firearms and some sort of a special talisman of death and destruction. ‘See, they are so awful we can get special laws that apply only to guns’. It’s subtle mind control for the masses. In doing so they can add malevolence and ill intent where none exist. They theorize that the gun is bad, therefore any error made with it infers evil intent, or callousness rising to some mythical level, the sin qua non. Thus criminally punishable outright, as a special level of offense.

    If they want to have a special penalty for ANY form of negligence that results in death or serious bodily injury to a child, by any means, we might listen. But the won’t because that is superfluous to their true objective. They focus on the firearm because it fits their agenda, their long term plan. Not because any such law might have an usefulness.

  23. Brian: The real reason question in my mind is why suddenly safety is placed second to accessibility. In one of the recent stories, a the guy took out the gun and put it under the seat, left the kid in the car to go into the store, kid got the gun and bang. First question in my mind is why did he feel he needed to bring a gun. If you have a carry permit, keep the gun with you. If a gun is illegally possessed in public and a death ensues, there needs to be charges brought. If your gun is accessed without your consent or knowledge and death ensues, charges need to be brought. The severity of the charge and the penalties associated need to be more clearly defined. Negligence varies in degrees of contribution. Leaving a loaded gun on the top of your closet shelf would constitute safety for some people.Some people believe in locked gun safes. If you routinely have children in your house, a safe is a great idea. But, if junior goes into the closet at grandpa’s house and gets his gun and kills a sibling, should the police put grandpa in prison? At the end of the day, a lock preventing use may be the difference between being on the news as a victim or a survivor. The question is accessibility versus safety. Stay safe.

  24. smokey984 says:

    So the title: Controlling ones gun is not gun control…

    Then what is?

  25. Brian O'Neill says:

    S2E- I appreciate your comments, and I believe you restated my own position from a different viewpoint.

    smokey- The term “gun control” has a negative connotation associated with it, at least as far as the NRA lobby is concerned. My purpose in this title is to separate out the need to control a very deadly object from a politically sensitive issue. Currently in Washington there is no proper legislation to handle gun owners who do something irresponsible with their firearm (such as tuck it under the seat in their car where a toddler can access it). We are held far more accountable for our vehicles (also a potentially deadly weapon) than we are for weapons, and the lack of judgment displayed in recent events has seen tragic results.

    Times change, circumstances change, and the laws ALWAYS need to keep pace.

  26. smokey984 says:

    So as the current law stands there’s no accountability for a situation you have described in your last post? (gun tucked under the seat) or similar situation…

    Forgive my ignorance, i was born and raised in Tacoma, but left in early 1992.

  27. Brian O'Neill says:

    Leaving the weapon unsecured in the vehicle is a misdemeanor weapons violation (given that the weapon should have remained on his person). Is that the best answer to a situation involving the death of a child? I believe a bill written specifically for these recurring and deadly situations is necessary.

  28. Objective says:

    Brian,

    What do you think, will something like this protect your kids or anybody elses?

    http://mynorthwest.com/174/618739/Washington-state-lawmakers-push-gun-safety-bill

  29. Objective says:

    I believe if you are looking for a law, RCW 26.44 could probably sum it up for you.

    Washington statute defines child abuse or neglect:
    ’Abuse or neglect’ means sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child’s health, welfare, or safety… or the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child. (RCW 26.44.020).
    Negligence is further defined as:
    ‘Negligent treatment or maltreatment’ means an act or a failure to act, or the cumulative effects of a pattern of conduct, behavior, or inaction, that evidences a serious disregard of consequences of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to a child’s health, welfare, or safety, including but not limited to conduct prohibited under RCW 9A.42.100.

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